Not-for-profit long-term care homes face uncertain future after 2020

·4 min read

Villa Marconi, on Baseline Road, had to make some difficult decisions to halt the virus's spread once it found its way into the nursing home with 128 residents of primarily Italian heritage.

There were three COVID-19 outbreaks declared at the home in the past year, according to Ottawa Public Health (OPH).

"We had to limit people who would come in to see their loved ones, in some cases down to one designated individual," said Pat Santini, chair of the home's board of directors. "Most others would see them through the pane glass window and sometimes even those had to be curtailed."

Those painful decisions paid off, however, with OPH's dashboard showing only five positive cases linked to the home among staff members, and zero residents contracting the virus.

But while staff at the long-term care home prevented calamity, its future, like the future of other not-for-profit nursing homes in the city, remains clouded by financial uncertainty and the inability to host in-person fundraising events over the past year.

Sizeable gap left in budget

Normally, the home's annual Raise the Roof dinner brings in between $100,000 and $140,000 of the $200,000 to $250,000 in charitable donations it depends on each year.

Yet, like many not-for-profit homes in the Ottawa area, Villa Marconi ran a deficit in 2020 and plans to run another one in 2021.


"Our expenses, of course, are on the rise," said Santini, "especially as we have to purchase new equipment, new things that are required as a result of COVID-19."

"Our needs are not being funded."

Villa Marconi, like most long-term care homes, receives government funding, but that money only stretches so far.

"The only pessimism that I have, frankly, is the deficit that governments are building up and how much of the financial public pie will be available to [long-term care homes] in the future."

Delphine Haslé, executive director of the Perley and Rideau Veterans' Health Centre Foundation, said the home was able to reach its fundraising goals for 2021 by moving events online.

"We need to reinvent ourselves again, but not knowing when we will be able to go back to a new normal, and what that looks like, I think that's where our challenges are," she said.

A few kilometres away at St. Patrick's Home of Ottawa, where the different wards are named after Irish counties, the pandemic has been similarly difficult to navigate.

"I'll be honest. It's been a tough go at St. Pat's," said Meg Friedman, the executive director for the home's charitable foundation.

She said staff know proper health protocols need to be strictly obeyed as COVID-19 can quickly spread among residents.

There have been 32 cases of the virus reported at the long-term care facility. Three residents in the home died after contracting the illness, according to OPH's dashboard.

Donations raised by a long-term care homes' charitable foundation, like St. Patrick's, typically fund programs focused on enhancing the lives of residents and staff, not necessarily capital or operating costs.

'Long way to go'

Friedman said St. Patrick's was fortunate to have hosted its biggest annual fundraiser in February 2020, right before Ottawa entered its first lockdown.

She plans to begin drafting the home's 2021 strategic plan soon, without really knowing what next year's landscape looks like or what it means for the long-term care facility.

"It's very likely we won't be able to do either of our two signature fundraising events," she said. "Donors have been really loyal – will they be able to continue that through 2021?"

Meanwhile, Villa Marconi needs to replace part of its roof, which Santini estimates will cost approximately $300,000. To try to save funds, the home will have to rely on patchwork.

One day, he hopes to hold a charitable event – dinners where sponsors sit side-by-side with front-line workers as thank yous – but for now, the long-term care homes are imploring the public to keep them in mind.

"[The next year is] going to be a long stretch, and I think that we still have a long way to go," said Friedman.

"Anything that the community can do is going to make a difference."