TORONTO — Ontario's government said Friday it could extend its takeover of some long-term care homes where COVID-19 killed dozens of residents, as the official Opposition urged the province not to cede control of the facilities back to for-profit companies.
The government statement comes as the 90-day temporary management contracts and orders giving local hospitals control of nearly a dozen facilities that struggled to contain deadly COVID-19 outbreaks are set to expire in the coming weeks.
A spokeswoman for Long-term Care Minister Merrilee Fullerton said under the arrangements, companies will be permitted to take back control of the homes once the government is satisfied the outbreak risk to residents and staff have been "mitigated."
But if that hasn't occurred, the government can continue the orders, Gillian Sloggett said.
"Mandatory management orders and voluntary management contracts may be extended beyond the 90 days, if necessary," she said, adding an update on the homes' status is coming in the next few weeks. "We continue to monitor the homes closely."
The statement comes as NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called on the government to extend the management contracts that are set to expire, adding that the province should maintain oversight of those facilities until all investigations are complete.
Horwath stressed that ahead of a potential second wave of the virus this fall, now is not the time to hand control of the homes back to the companies.
"None of the for-profit providers should regain control of these homes or care for seniors that are in them," she said. "(Premier) Doug Ford must be prepared to permanently take over homes where evidence shows clear neglect."
The province has appointed temporary management at 11 homes since the start of the pandemic as the facilities struggled to contain COVID-19 outbreaks.
The homes placed under voluntary management contracts are Woodbridge Vista Care Community in Woodbridge, Ont., Orchard Villa in Pickering, Ont., and Camilla Care Community in Mississauga, Ont.
Five homes in Toronto — Villa Colombo, Extendicare Guildwood, Altamont Care Community, Hawthorne Place Care Centre and Eatonville Care Centre — have also been under voluntary contracts.
The province issued mandatory management orders for River Glen Haven in Sutton, Ont., Downsview Long Term Care in Toronto, and Forest Heights Long Term Care in Kitchener, Ont.
In April, Ford said the province was taking control of a number of long-term care homes after a "disturbing" report from the military was released on the conditions in some of the facilities.
The Canadian Armed Forces members said they observed cockroach infestations, aggressive feeding that caused choking, bleeding infections, and residents crying out for help for hours.
"We are fully prepared to take over more homes if necessary. We are fully prepared to pull licenses and shut down facilities if necessary," Ford said at the time.
A final report last week from the Canadian Armed Forces as they left the homes said the some of them have lingering problems that the government must address.
The government has launched an independent commission into the province's long-term care system.
Meanwhile on Friday, Ford and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a joint agreement to with 3M that will see the company produce N95 masks at a facility in Brockville, Ont.
Ottawa and the province will each contribute $23.3 million to help increase capacity at the plant, allowing it to produce up to 50 million N95 masks a year.
Ford called the announcement his "proudest day" since becoming premier of Ontario, and stressed that it will ensure the province has a continued supply of the key personal protective equipment in years to come.
He also said that during the early months of the pandemic there was a point when Ontario had only about a week's supply of N95 masks.
"I can tell you, worrying about where we would get the next PPE shipment, that's what kept me up at night," he said.
Ontario reported 131 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday and three new deaths related to the novel coronavirus, as well as 106 newly resolved cases.
The total number of cases now stands at 41,179, which includes 2,796 deaths and 37,397 cases marked as resolved.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said that due to an issue with province's reporting system, data that was not available Thursday from 11 of Ontario's 34 public health units was added Friday.
Because of that reporting lag, the new numbers are an "overestimation" of the daily case count, Elliott said.
The province was able to complete 28,073 tests over the previous day, she said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 21, 2020.
Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version gave an incorrect location for the Villa Colombo home.