The Ontario government is investing close to $540-million to protect residents, caregivers, and staff in long-term care homes from future surges and waves of COVID-19.
Provincial officials say the funding is part of the province’s COVID-19 fall preparedness plan, Keeping Ontarians Safe: Preparing for Future Waves of COVID-19.
Details of the plan were shared on Monday by Premier Doug Ford, Dr. Merillee Fullerton, Minister of Long-Term Care, and Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health.
“We have a responsibility to protect our most vulnerable, while ensuring they continue to have access to the best medical staff and their caregivers,” said Premier Ford in a media release.
“We are taking every step possible to fortify that iron ring of protection around our long-term care homes and that includes updating the visitor policy. I encourage family members to identify as essential caregivers at the homes, so they can continue to visit and support both the physical and mental well-being of their loved ones and all the residents.”
As part of the Fall Preparedness Plan, the government is enabling necessary renovations and measures to improve infection prevention and control, shoring up personal protective equipment (PPE) stockpiles, and building a strong health care workforce.
The new investments include:
– $405 million to help homes with operating pressures related to COVID-19, including infection prevention and containment measures, staffing supports, and purchasing additional supplies and PPE;
– $61.4 million for minor capital repairs and renovations in homes to improve infection prevention and control. These repairs and renovations may include minor upgrades to support physical distancing, plumbing or water supply cleaning, updating HVAC systems, or repairing or replacing furniture and equipment that cannot be fully cleaned;
– $40 million to support homes that have been impacted by the changes in occupancy numbers due to COVID-19. As the sector has been directed to stop admissions of third and fourth residents to larger rooms, a key source of income for each operator will be impacted. This funding will help stabilize the homes through the transition to lower occupancy rooms;
– $30 million to allow long-term care homes to hire more infection prevention and c ontrol staffing, including $20 million for additional personnel and $10 million to fund training for new and existing staff. This new funding will enable homes to hire over 150 new staff;
– $2.8 million to extend the High Wage Transition Fund to ensure that gaps in long-term care staffing can continue to be addressed during the pandemic;
Provide all long-term care homes with access to up to eight weeks of supply of PPE so they are prepared in case of outbreaks. This supply will be available starting the week of October 5, 2020. The province will also continue to deliver PPE within 24 hours of urgent requests;
The government continues to look at innovative solutions to provide more care where and when people need it. Through the skills of community paramedics and working with municipal partners, the government will be making an investment to help people on the long-term care waitlist stay in their own homes longer.
“COVID-19 demands a culture of continuous learning: the more we learn, the better we can plan and prepare for future waves,” said Minister Fullerton in a media release.
“Our government is committed to applying what we have learned during this outbreak to build and strengthen a long-term care system that works in the best interests of our residents and the people who work so hard to keep them safe.”
“Protecting the health and safety of Ontarians, especially those who are at higher-risk like seniors and residents living in long-term care homes, is our top priority,” said Minister Elliott in a media release.
“The actions our government is taking to protect our loved ones along with the critical investments we are making to strengthen the long-term care sector will ensure our homes are prepared for the second wave of COVID-19 and the upcoming flu season.”
The province will also be making changes to its visitor policy to long-term care homes, to ensure that long-term care homes in areas of highest community spread are able to continue to keep residents safe and prevent the spread of COVID-19 within their homes.
Provincial officials say effective Monday, October 5, 2020, visitors to long-term care homes in these areas will be restricted to staff and essential visitors only, which includes essential caregivers.
Residents and substitute decision-makers are encouraged to identify up to two individuals as essential caregivers.
Doing so will ensure the continuation of visits and support the physical and mental well-being of residents at the home.
Essential caregivers must continue to follow all public health measures, including having a negative COVID-19 test within two weeks of a visit, passing active screening at the home, wearing a mask and additional PPE as directed, and practising frequent handwashing.
The province’s COVID-19 fall preparedness plan will help the province quickly identify, prevent and respond to any scenario in order to protect communities.
Provincial officials say the Keeping Ontarians Safe plan will:
– Recruit, retain, train and support health care workers, while also continuing to engage families and caregivers;
– Implement the largest flu immunization campaign in Ontario’s history;
Maintain strong public health measures, including continued expansion of testing and case and contact management;
– Quickly identify, manage and prevent COVID-19 outbreaks;
– Accelerate efforts to reduce health service backlogs; and
– Prepare for surges in COVID-19 cases.
In a separate announcement on Monday, the Ontario government announced they are investing $52.5 million to recruit, retain and support over 3,700 more frontline health care workers and caregivers to ensure the health care system can meet any surge in demand, while continuing to provide safe and high-quality care to patients and long-term care residents.
This investment is part of the province’s COVID-19 fall preparedness plan, Keeping Ontarians Safe: Preparing for Future Waves of COVID-19.
“It’s the thousands of nurses, personal support workers, and other frontline workers who have made the difference in the fight against COVID-19,” said Premier Ford in a media release.
“Today’s significant investment will allow us to recruit, retain, and quickly deploy a militia of health care heroes, caregivers, and volunteer professionals to care for our seniors and most vulnerable and ensure our health care system is prepared to deal with any outbreaks or surges in cases.”
“Retaining and increasing the number of frontline health care workers in our continuous fight against COVID-19 is critical,” said Minister Elliott in a press release.
“We are taking further action to ensure our frontline health care workers are supported, and the health care sector has the staff to provide timely, high-quality care.”
In order to increase and stabilize the health care workforce, the province is investing an additional $26.3 million to support personal support workers (PSWs) and supportive care workers, including:
– $14 million for the Personal Support Worker training funds to continue training PSWs in the home and community care and long-term care sectors;
– $10.3 million for the new Personal Support Worker Return of Service Program, to recruit and retain recent graduates to work in long-term care homes and in the home and community care sectors. This program will provide a $5,000 incentive to 2,000 recent graduates for a six-month commitment to work in these settings;
– $1.3 million to train 160 supportive care workers to provide basic home support services; and
– $700,000 in accelerated PSW training for 220 students with prior health experience to practice in Ontario.
The province is investing an additional $26 million to support nurses, including:
– $18 million for Ontario’s Nursing Graduate Guarantee program, which provides full-time salary and benefits for over 600 nurses with a focus on recruiting in areas of need such as long-term care homes and acute care settings; and
– Up to $8 million to add over 800 nurses to the health system in areas of need across the province.
The province is supporting frontline workers, families and caregivers by:
– Investing $200,000 to improve the matching algorithm for the Ontario Matching Portal, which will enable employers to get faster matches that best meet their needs;
– Expanding training, tools and resources available to frontline workers across the social services sector; and
– Continuing to update visitor policies for congregate care settings, including long-term care, that promote family and caregiver involvement to support better care and reduce isolation.