About one-third of long-term care beds in the Ottawa region are in facilities built to 1972 design standards that permit four beds in a room the size of a small studio apartment.
This newspaper obtained a spreadsheet of the “structural classifications” of long-term care homes in the province from Ontario’s Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.
The data shows that 34 per cent of the 7,608 long-term care beds in the Ottawa region are categorized as “C” beds, meaning that they were built to 1972 standards. Those standards allow up to four beds to be placed in a 305-square-foot room.
In the Ottawa region, three of the five worst COVID-19 outbreaks have occurred in older, long-term care homes classified as “C” facilities: Carlingview Manor, Laurier Manor and Almonte Country Haven. Officials say it can be difficult to control the spread of a virus in facilities with ward-style rooms, shared bathrooms and little space to isolate infected residents.
Carlingview Manor has experienced the city’s biggest COVID-19 outbreak: 58 residents have died at the facility during the pandemic. More than half of its 303 residents have been infected, along with 87 staff members.
Revera, the company that owns Carlingview, has said that more government investment is needed to refurbish antiquated long-term care homes and build new ones. “ Aging long-term care homes are not designed to handle a pandemic,” spokeswoman Susan Schutta said Tuesday. She said Revera submitted an application to the province to redevelop Carlingview more than two years ago, but has yet to receive approval.
Three and four-bed wards are not allowed in “new” long-term care homes, which the province classifies as any facility built since 1998. Thirty-five per cent of long-term care beds in the Ottawa region are classified as “new.”
According to the new design standards, a maximum on two beds are allowed in any one room. Two-bed units must be at least 230 square feet in size and have a curtain between the beds.
Still, while a long-term care home’s design may be a significant factor in a COVID-19 outbreak, it is not a determinative one.
Two long-term care homes with major COVID-19 outbreaks in Ottawa — Madonna Care Community and Montfort LTC Centre — are both classified as “new” facilities. What’s more, some older, “C” facilities in Ottawa have avoided serious COVID-19 outbreaks altogether.
Extendicare operates five “C” facilities in Ottawa, and four of them have not suffered a single COVID-19 infection among their residents. Extendicare also manages Laurier Manor, another “C” building and one of the city’s hardest-hit facilities.
Jane Meadus, a staff lawyer at the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly, said the Ottawa statistics speak both to the importance of good administrators — and to luck as a variable in the pandemic.
“If you don’t have proper management within the home, it doesn’t matter who owns it,” she said. Administrators are critical, Meadus said, in ensuring that staff members properly deploy personal protective equipment, wash their hands frequently, and feed residents safely.
According to statistics published Tuesday, 210 of the 248 people who have died from COVID-19 in Ottawa lived in long-term care homes.
In Ontario, long-term care homes are categorized by the building standards that they meet. There are five basic categories: new beds, A, B, C and D.
New beds account for more than half (39,508) of the province’s 78,000 LTC beds. Those beds meet or exceed 1998 design standards.
Those in category A (6,986 beds) come close to the 1998 standards, while those in category B (5,628 beds) substantially exceed 1972 design standards. There remains in Ontario a significant number of C beds (24,665) built to 1972 standards; few D beds (1,346) are still in operation.
For the past decade, the province has been pursuing a renewal strategy to redevelop its B, C and D beds.
Macey Aramburo, a spokesperson for the long-term care ministry, said the government has committed to bringing 15,000 older long-term care beds up to modern design standards, while also building an additional 15,00 new LTC beds. The measures are expected to cost $1.75 billion over the next five years.
“This pandemic,” she added, “has only amplified the need for significant repair of these cracks in the system.”
In response to the Gillese Inquiry, a provincial inquiry into long-term care home safety that followed nurse Elizabeth Wettlaufer’s conviction on eight counts of first-degree murder, the province also launched a study to identify appropriate staffing levels in LTC homes, and to develop strategies for better staff retention.
“We were making real progress towards alleviating the shortcomings, like ward rooms and too few staff, that have exacerbated the (COVID-19) tragedy in these hard-hit homes,” Aramburo said. “We are learning more every day from the challenges posed by this virus.”
The average age of someone living in long-term care is 83; almost two-thirds (64 per cent) of residents have a dementia diagnosis and require help to eat and drink.
Taxpayers are projected to pay $4.4 billion toward the cost of long-term care in Ontario this year, while fees charged to residents are to account for another $1.5 billion.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020