Ontario opened just 21 new nursing home beds in the first year of the Ford government at a time when 35,000 seniors are on the waiting list, New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath says, pushing for a faster approval and construction process.
“You have to find a way to speed things up and provide some relief,” Horwath urged Thursday, a day after the province’s independent Financial Accountability Office (FAO) warned Ontario’s hospital hallway health care crisis will worsen over the next two years because of the backlog.
Quoting figures from the Ministry of Health, Horwath said the 21 beds came on stream at the same time as 2,812 people were added to the waiting list.
“It keeps growing,” she said.
Long-Term Care Minister Merrilee Fullerton said the Progressive Conservative government, which has promised to open 15,000 new beds within five years, is working to open beds more quickly with about 8,000 allocated so far.
But she noted it now takes 36 months from approval to finishing construction, a time period officials are trying to shorten.
“We know it’s going to take real action to create the capacity that’s required and that’s why we’re streamlining processes to make sure we get shovels in the ground,” Fullerton, a medical doctor, told the legislature’s daily question period.
“We have large numbers of seniors beginning to age.”
The FAO report said the long-term care system will swell with baby boomers over the next two decades, requiring an additional 55,000 new nursing home beds by 2034 to maintain the waiting list at current levels.
The Conservatives have pledged an additional 15,000 nursing home beds from 2023 to 2028, along with a plan to “redevelop” another 15,000 existing beds but Horwath said that doesn’t come close to meeting the 55,000 beds that will be needed.
“The Financial Accountability Office’s report made it pretty clear that the government needs to increase investment in long-term care if they want to make a dent in the waiting list or get patients out of hospital hallways,” Horwath added.
Hospital wards are backlogged with patients who no longer need acute care but can’t go back to their houses or retirement homes because they need nursing home care. That makes it harder for emergency department patients who are receiving treatment in hallways and other unconventional spaces to move into traditional hospital beds.
About 1,000 patients are being treated in hospital hallways daily, a number that is expected to increase as the flu season arrives. Last season, there were 5,450 flu-related hospitalizations in Ontario and 275 deaths.
Ford promised during the 2018 provincial election campaign to end hallway health care, something Health Minister Christine Elliott says will take time.
Fullerton said it’s difficult to pinpoint how many new nursing home beds will open in the second full year of the Ford government, which took power in June 2018, but added she is hoping for “solid numbers” to improve on the 21 that were in the pipeline under the previous Liberal government.
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A total of 611 new nursing home beds opened from 2011 to 2018 under the Liberals, a number Fullerton called “shocking” given that the waiting list in that period climbed to a median of 152 days from 99.
The province now has 626 long-term care homes with more than 78,000 residents.