Ontario has used its powers to push through the redevelopment of three long-term care homes run by a company accused of serious mismanagement during the pandemic, including widespread deaths in its facilities.
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Local residents and seniors said they are outraged by the ministerial zoning orders to speed up the redevelopment of Orchard Villa in Pickering, Ont., another that has been opposed in Port Hope, Ont., and a third in Ottawa — all run by Southbridge Care Homes.
“I’m really angry and upset,” said Cathy Parkes, whose father, Paul, died of COVID-19 at Orchard Villa in April 2020, criticizing the province for backing a company “that has not been held to account.”
Dozens of vulnerable seniors died at Orchard Villa when the coronavirus made its way inside in the spring of 2020 and tore through the home.
It got so bad inside, with little staff helping out and few reinforcements available, that the province called in the military to help stabilize the situation at Orchard Villa and six other nursing homes.
The military report prepared afterward detailed “horrific” allegations of insect infestations, aggressive resident feeding that caused choking, bloody infections, and residents crying for help for hours. Allegations also included failure to isolate COVID-19-positive patients from the rest of the home and a host of hygiene issues involving everything from contaminated catheters to dangerous pressure ulcers.
Southbridge Care Homes did not respond to a request for comment.
Families of those who died at Orchard Villa have filed a $200-million class action lawsuit against the company.
“The Doug Ford government is acting on Southbridge’s behalf in issuing MZO’s in Port Hope, Pickering, and Ottawa attempting to bypass the usual planning and citizen consultation processes,” said Patricia Spindel, the co-founder of Seniors for Social Action Ontario.
“The question is why? Why would the Ford government take such drastic action to assist a long-term care company with this kind of a record, especially over the objections of local citizens and some councillors?”
Long Term Care Minister Paul Calandra has long said he will use any tool at his disposal to push through a massive upgrade to long-term care homes across the province.
Calandra is spearheading a $6.4-billion push to build or redevelop 58,000 long-term care beds in the wake of the pandemic.
Pickering’s city council recently opposed Orchard Villa’s redevelopment, which bothered Calandra.
“Orchard Villa should have been demolished and replaced years ago under the former Liberal government,” said Jake Roseman, Calandra’s spokesman.
“The approval of this MZO is an important step in constructing a state-of-the-art building, including enhanced infection prevention and control measures, so residents can receive the safety and quality of life they deserve.”
The clock is ticking for long-term care organizations to cash in with the province. As part of the push to expand, the province is giving an additional subsidy of up to $35 per bed, per day, for 25 years. But construction must begin by Aug. 31.
There are 360 long-term care beds slated for the new Orchard Villa, Roseman said.
The zoning order, which was issued last week for Orchard Villa, allows for up to three 15-storey buildings and a maximum of 832 long-term care beds and 670 units in a retirement home.
In Port Hope, Southbridge operates a nursing home on the grounds of century-old hospital. A previous council designated the site a heritage property with the hopes of stopping the build.
Opposition increased following the pandemic and the failures at Southbridge’s Orchard Villa site.
Southbridge requested a ministerial zoning order from the province in order to expedite its wishes to build a seven-story, 192-bed long-term care home and demolish the existing buildings.
“This file is not advancing at the request of the municipality,” the Municipality of Port Hope said in a statement.
“I think it’s completely wrong-headed,” said Jenny Munro, who lives in Port Hope.
“The province is either naive or they simply don’t care — I don’t know if it’s from corruption or ignorance, or both, but it’s really not in favour of the residents or the staff or the town.”
In Ottawa, Southbridge plans to build a four-storey, 192-bed long-term care home in the city’s south end. In April, the city asked the province to allow it to provide input in the process, propose a different zoning than the one the province outlined and recommend the zoning order not exempt Southbridge from submitting a site plan application to the city.
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