Ontario to spend $150M on rural broadband as province reports 338 new COVID-19 cases
Long-term care homes remain major focus as ombudsman investigations begin
Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he's investing $150 million to expand broadband internet and cell service on Wednesday, saying that "reliable high speed internet is no longer a luxury."
That money is part of a $315 million dollar plan, previously announced in July.
"We all deserve the opportunity to join the economy of the 21st century," said Infrastructure Minister Laurie Scott.
In a release, the province says money will go towards a portion of approved projects pitched by groups like telecom companies, municipal governments, First Nation communities, and non-profits.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce, who had called on the federal government to help support broadband expansion over the weekend, says the government will also connect all Ontario high schools to broadband by September 2020 and all elementary schools by September 2021.
The province reported 338 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday — a decrease after several days of growing numbers.
Questions on 'social bubbles' and regional reopening
The 338 new cases being reported Wednesday represent a 1.2 per cent increase in total cases.
Prior to that, Ontario's numbers had risen consistently since Sunday, landing above 400 for the last two days. There's also been increasing focus on growing infections among farm and migrant workers.
The Ministry of Health's official death toll grew by 19 to 2,312. But a more accurate COVID-19 death toll is at least 2,373 according to a CBC News count based on data from regional public health units.
"With the declining cases in Quebec now, it really leaves Ontario as a bit of an outlier, a place that's been unable to get off of the plateau," said University of Toronto epidemiologist Dr. David Fisman in an interview with CBC News on Tuesday.
With that as a backdrop, ministers faced questions on Wednesday about how reopening will proceed, including whether, as Ford had said he was considering last week, it could be carried out differently in different regions.
The Premier told reporters that outbreaks among migrant workers "shouldn't affect the rest of the community," and wouldn't impact how reopening moves forward.
"We'll go in there and we'll work with the farmers," said Ford, saying that the government has already given farmers $2 million to buy workers PPE and that inspections continue.
WATCH: Premier Doug Ford says province won't delay reopening due to state of emergency
Health Minister Christine Elliott also said the government is considering the possibility of Ontarians expanding their "social bubbles" to include people outside of their own households — but had nothing definitive to announce.
Health Minister Christine Elliott says they are considering letting people expand their "social bubbles" when, by how many, but at this point, no news on that front. Status quo, stay within your bubble.—@fitz_meagan
Long-term care home investigations begin
Yesterday, the provincial patient ombudsman announced it would be probing the province's long-term care sector and put out a call for input. A similar investigation was announced by the provincial ombudsman one day earlier.
In a news release issued Wednesday, The Ontario Long Term Care Association called on the federal government to help pay for more resources and staff in advance of an anticipated second wave of COVID-19 cases.
Among the requests: more personal protective equipment and testing, a national human resources strategy for connecting new staff to homes in need, and capital investment to build and re-develop long-term care homes.
Elliott was asked about what will happen to the province's long-term care homes once support teams from the Canadian Armed Forces and hospitals are eventually pulled out.
"Our first priority is making sure that the very vulnerable populations in our long-term care homes are well provided for," said Elliott. She added that the province will attempt to simultaneously maintain hospital support in the homes and continue the resumption of delayed surgeries.
"So if there is one hospital in a region that is providing support to a long-term care home, there may be another hospital that is able to proceed with surgeries, and surgeons may be moved," she said.
WATCH: Health Minister Christine Elliott on long-term care homes after the military leaves
According to Wednesday's provincial report, there are 94 active outbreaks in long-term care homes, and 203 that are now considered resolved. The same report says that 1,661 of Ontario's deaths were long-term care home residents.
Sienna Senior Living to conduct its own review into company
Sienna Senior Living, which runs 37 long-term care homes in Ontario, announced on Wednesday evening that it has hired Paul Boniferro, a former deputy attorney general of Ontario, to conduct a company-wide review into its policies, practices and culture.
"This review will help us identify how best to ensure that our expectations of a respectful, safe and inclusive environment are met at every residence, at all hours of the day," the company said in a news release.
Sienna said it is also taking the following steps:
- Hiring a senior health and long-term care expert to act as senior adviser to its management and board of directors in part to address its current problems.
- Providing education to its employees to ensure they "understand and provide the quality of care our residents deserve." The education will include sessions focused on PPE.
- Reinforcing its zero-tolerance policy for inappropriate behaviour and conducting sensitivity training with front-line staff.
- Increasing its communications with residents and their families. It has already started holding video-conference town hall meetings. Regular virtual visits between residents and their loved ones will also be a priority.
- Stepping up its recruitment efforts, which has been a challenge during the pandemic.
At Altamont Care Community, Sienna said the report by the Canadian Armed Forces doesn't reflect the "current reality" at the home. The company said the military will provide an updated assessment before it leaves Altamont in mid-June.
And at Camilla Care Community, Sienna said it was made aware by a whistleblower of "very serious and disturbing allegations" that occurred at the home.
"We have dedicated resources to investigate the situation and will immediately take action should the allegations prove true, " the company said in a release.
Sienna says it has taken the following steps at Camilla:
- All team members who are the subject of the complaints have been put on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigations.
- The allegations have been reported to the Ontario ministry of long-term care and Peel police.
- It entered into an agreement with Trillium Health Partners, to allow them to assume management of the residence and have committed to working cooperatively with them.
- With the help of Trillium Health Partners, it has retained a third-party investigator to review these allegations. This investigation is underway.
Sienna did not provide any details about the nature of the allegations.
With files from the Canadian Press