Advocates push for more air conditioning in long-term care as heat hits Ontario

·3 min read
A man takes a walk outside the Seven Oaks Long-Term Care Home in Toronto on Thursday, June 25, 2020. Advocates say as summer temperatures set in, Ontario needs to move as quickly as possible to get air conditioning in all resident rooms in long-term care. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press - image credit)
A man takes a walk outside the Seven Oaks Long-Term Care Home in Toronto on Thursday, June 25, 2020. Advocates say as summer temperatures set in, Ontario needs to move as quickly as possible to get air conditioning in all resident rooms in long-term care. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press - image credit)

With temperatures set to soar above 30 C in areas of the province this weekend, advocates are once again sounding the alarm about sweltering conditions inside some of Ontario's beleaguered long-term care homes.

During a heat wave last July, homes were still reeling from the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, Premier Doug Ford promised to "rapidly" mandate air conditioning in all long-term care homes, including residents' rooms.

Then last month, the province's minister of long-term care announced that an increasing number of long-term care facilities in Ontario are installing air conditioning throughout their buildings — but a significant portion still does not have air conditioning in all resident rooms.

That is a key consideration, said Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition. She told CBC News that most residents need assistance to get to cooling areas, and ongoing staffing shortages will greatly hamper the ability to do that.

"That leaves residents isolated in the stifling rooms without the ability to get [somewhere] that may be cool, or the ability to go outside, and that is critical," Mehra said.

At a May 27 news conference, Minister of Long-Term Care Dr. Merrilee Fullerton said 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 late last month, adding that an additional 23 per cent of homes "are working toward being fully air conditioned as soon as possible."

Merrilee Fullerton, Ontario's minister of long-term care, previously said the province is instituting a 'safe and comfortable environment' in long-term care and there is 'a commitment by our government to bring these homes into the modern era.'
Merrilee Fullerton, Ontario's minister of long-term care, previously said the province is instituting a 'safe and comfortable environment' in long-term care and there is 'a commitment by our government to bring these homes into the modern era.'(Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

During question period Thursday, Ford said the province is "83 per cent there," adding that he is confident the province will hit the 100 per cent mark "to have cooling in every single room."

The premier did not give a timeframe for that, and he did note that older homes have structural issues that make installing cooling systems challenging.

"We aren't going to stop until we get 100 per cent," Ford said.

Cooling resident rooms key

Mehra said the province does deserve credit for moving forward on air conditioning after years of neglect in the sector, but also noted that common room air conditioning isn't enough.

"There may be one common room per unit that has air conditioning and only a few residents can access it," she said. "Many are more isolated in their rooms than they have ever been in my 20 years of experience dealing with long-term care.

"The bedrooms are what counts and the government is saying that it's going to have [over 80] per cent of the homes done by summertime sometime, [which] I will take as the end of the summer. So people will still suffer with these stifling rooms."

Timiskaming-Cochrane MPP John Vanthof echoed that sentiment during question period Thursday.

"We all know that many of the people in long-term care don't get to the cooling area ... they're in their room," he said.

Vanessa De Matteis, spokesperson for the minister of long-term care, said in an email to CBC News that over the next four years, the province is spending $246 million to improve living conditions in existing long-term care homes, which includes air conditioning.

She said the province is working to fix "longstanding problems that have been around for decades.

"We continue to work with the sector to ensure that adequate cooling systems are in place in short order to improve the health and well-being of residents."