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Ontario holding firm on new long-term care law that still separates some partners

The long-term care minister recently told an NDP MPP trying to create a 'right to live together' that her proposal would 'reduce the level of care'
A woman walks outside a long-term care home in Barrie, Ont. on Monday, Jan. 18, 2021. Ontario's long-term care minister says the province is reviewing pricing practices of nursing agencies. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article originally appeared on The Trillium, a new Village Media website devoted exclusively to covering provincial politics at Queen’s Park.

Couples in their golden years continue to face separation in Ontario's long-term care system, but the province's minister responsible isn't interested in a proposed fix from the opposition, saying it could reduce residents' quality of care. 

Last summer, as Doug Ford's re-elected Progressive Conservatives prepared actions to reshape post-pandemic health care in Ontario, the government was setting up long-term care homes to be a crutch for hospitals.

Its plan to free up spots for 2,500 more patients in the province's struggling hospital system banked largely on the addition of 1,300 long-term care (LTC) home beds within six months.

To achieve that, LTC beds frozen for COVID-19 isolation would reopen, hospitals would utilize other vacancies, certain LTC-run care programs would be reactivated and expanded, and Bill 7's passage would allow hospitals to more forcefully transfer discharged patients into LTC homes.

For patients affected by Bill 7, "spousal parameters" were to be respected, a planning document from the Health and Long-Term Care ministries that The Trillium obtained from a freedom-of-information request shows.

The 17-page file, titled "Health System Recovery and Stability," from Aug. 2, 2022 laid out many of the ministries' planned actions over the next few months.

Sixteen days later, Health Minister Sylvia Jones and Long-Term Care Minister Paul Calandra unveiled their plan of the same name, and Calandra introduced Bill 7. The legislation was intensely scrutinized from introduction to passage — and even thereafter — over a section that led to the introduction of a $400-a-night fee for patients who were cleared for discharge but refused a move to a long-term care home that in some cases they didn't choose.

Fundamentally, Bill 7 and the regulations that followed it had little effect on how spousal reunification is handled under Ontario's Fixing Long-Term Care Act.

The act, which is the Ford government's 2021 rewrite of the sector-guiding law, changed little from the Long-Term Care Homes Act that it replaced when it comes to how spouses who are separated in the long-term care system reunite with each other. Sections of the new act's regulations affecting spousal reunification are nearly word-for-word the same as the old law's, and the topic wasn't mentioned in the government's news release from when it was introduced.

Under Ontario's law, spouses in different long-term care homes who want to live together are placed in one of two different categories. There were 91 residents on these wait-lists, including 13 in the higher priority "crisis" level group, as of the end of November, according to the most up-to-date data tabled in the legislature.

In early April, after that Long-Term Care Ministry data was tabled by Calandra, NDP MPP Catherine Fife wrote to him with concerns that not all seniors' cases were being captured, referring to the case of a couple that's split up between a long-term care home and a retirement home as an example.

Fife's letter also advocated to Calandra for the Standing Committee on Social Policy to start its study of Bill 21, her Fixing Long-Term Care Amendment Act (Till Death Do Us Part act), which would change the 2021 law to include that "every resident" admitted to an LTC home "has the right upon admission not to be separated from their spouse and to have appropriate accommodation made available for both spouses to live together in the home."

Bill 21 passed an uncounted second reading vote on Nov. 15. It has since sat idle before the social policy committee, which was assigned its study.

Responding to Fife's letter in an email on May 1, Calandra wrote that "Bill 21 does not place care at the centre of its requirements."

"As you know, the highest care, backed by new homes, more staff, aggressive inspections, and focus on residents is the core of our action and investments. I am not willing to reduce the level of care, which I believe your bill does," the long-term care minister wrote to the NDP MPP.

As of Thursday, the social policy committee hadn't scheduled any dates for its study of Bill 21, which is necessary for it to draw closer to becoming law.


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Charlie Pinkerton

About the Author: Charlie Pinkerton

Charlie has covered politics since 2018, covering Queen's Park since 2021. Instead of running for mayor of Toronto, he helped launch the Trillium in 2023.
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