Nearly 99 per cent of nursing homes in Ontario now have air conditioning in residents’ rooms, almost a year after the province set a deadline for the requirement.
Long-Term Care Minister Paul Calandra said only nine of the 625 nursing homes in Ontario remain without air conditioning in resident rooms.
Three of those are expected to have units installed by the end of May, and three more are on track to have AC this summer. Two homes have electrical capacity issues but are being redeveloped and will eventually have AC. The government has granted exemptions to those eight homes and recently fined a ninth one.
The province is now conducting an inspection blitz, as the warm weather arrives, to ensure homes are complying with legislation that mandates air conditioning in resident rooms.
"It's a shame that we actually had to put a program in place that air conditions the homes, but we're there now, 99 per cent done, and just a couple more left to go," Calandra told The Canadian Press in an interview.
Legislation passed in 2021 required long-term care homes to install air conditioning in all resident rooms by June 2022.
The province gives homes funding for air conditioning and is spending $200 million on the program, Calandra said.
The government also recently passed regulations that allow it to slap higher fines on nursing homes not in compliance with the law.
Last week, as part of its inspection blitz, the province laid the first such fine under the new rules.
Prescott and Russell Residence in Hawksbury, Ont., has been fined $25,000 for not complying with the law.
Calandra said inspectors found air conditioning units on site, but they were not installed in residents' rooms. It gave the home a week to comply.
"We've been very, very, very clear to all of them what our expectation is on the air conditioning side," he said. "We funded it. We expect it to be in the rooms and available."
The nursing home, run by the United Counties Of Prescott and Russell, has taken issue with the fine.
Eric Larocque, administrator of the Prescott and Russell Residence, said the home complied with the law last year but found there were some nights in May when temperatures would drop below zero. The home's air conditioning units are installed in windows in the rooms in the building that dates back to 1978.
"It makes a huge draft at nighttime," he said.
The furnace cannot keep up on those nights, causing temperatures inside the rooms to drop.
"Our residents were getting really cold," he said.
The home has sensors in every room, he said, and gets alerted when temperatures rise above 26 C or fall below 22 C –temperatures mandated by law.
This year, the home set up air conditioning units in 13 lounges should the temperatures in rooms get too hot during the day. They planned to install air conditioning units in rooms in June, when the temperatures would get higher.
"We still believe that we did the right thing," Larocque said.
He said the home has now complied with the law by putting the air conditioners in all 110 residents' rooms despite some cold nights this week.
The home will seek a review of the fine, he said. The issue shouldn't arise next year as they are moving into a new building, Larocque said.
Last August, the province fined two homes $1,100 under the old penalty regime. Those homes have since installed air conditioning in every resident room, Calandra said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 26, 2023.
Liam Casey, The Canadian Press