Ontario says more long-term care homes air conditioned, but still not all resident rooms
Last summer, Ford government promised to install AC in residents' rooms
The province's minister of long-term care announced Thursday that an increasing number of long-term care facilities in Ontario are installing air conditioning throughout their buildings — but a significant portion still do not have air conditioning in all resident rooms.
At a news conference, Dr. Merrilee Fullerton said that the province has now ensured designated cooling areas in all long-term care homes. As well, 60 per cent of resident rooms are fully air conditioned, compared to 42 per cent last summer, the government said in a news release, adding that an additional 23 per cent of homes are "are working toward being fully air conditioned as soon as possible."
Fullerton said the province is instituting a "safe and comfortable environment," and there is "a commitment by our government to bring these homes into the modern era.
"It does take some time, especially during COVID pandemic times," she said.
During a heat wave in July 2020, as the sector was still reeling from the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ontario Premier Doug Ford promised to "rapidly" mandate air conditioning in all long-term care homes, including residents' rooms.
Ford told reporters on July 8, 2020, that his government would act "immediately" to change the Long-Term Care Homes Act. The legislation requires homes without central air to provide at least one cooling area for every 40 residents and mandates a minimum temperature of 22 C, but no maximum temperature.
Ford himself pointed to the gaps in those requirements listed in Ontario's Long-Term Care Homes Act.
"Right now in the bill it says common areas are air conditioned, but just imagine someone sitting up in a third storey room," he said at the time.
"Sometimes [staff] don't have an opportunity to bring these patients, especially now, into these common areas. I can't imagine sitting there in 27 or 28 degrees of heat in a room, and it's just unacceptable."
In a news release, Fullerton said that at least 83 per cent of homes "will have full air conditioning by this summer."
Speaking after Fullerton's press conference, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath noted that the Long-Term Care Act already required cooling in common areas, and last summer, Ford agreed that wasn't good enough.
"I can say I firmly believe it's still not good enough, even with the government's announcement today," she said.
"Family members know very well that many seniors in long-term care will still be stuck in sweltering rooms, fading away over the summer."
The Ministry of Long-Term Care told CBC News this week that it had "collected information on mechanical cooling systems in all homes" in February.
"We are using this information to work with the sector to ensure that adequate cooling systems are in place for this summer to improve the health and well-being of residents," spokesperson Mark Nesbitt said in a statement.
With files from Samantha Beattie and Adam Carter