Nearly 90 per cent of Ontarians aged 55+ say they want to stay in their own home and remain out of the province’s retirement and long-term care system as long as possible, especially because of what COVID-19 has wrought on those facilities, a new poll finds.

The poll conducted in late September found 89 per cent of respondents plan to stay in their own home or apartment for as long as possible, while four per cent planned to move in to a retirement residence or with a family member.

Seven per cent were unsure and zero respondents said they wanted or planned to move into a long-term care home.

The Campaign Research poll reached 1,034 Ontario residents who are part of MARU/BLUE’s research pool and are aged 55 or older.

More than 4,000 Ontario residents died in long-term care homes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and more than 17,000 residents were infected.

“COVID-19 has clearly made home care a top priority for Ontario’s seniors. And that’s sad, given the government’s track record on investments in our sector recently,” Home Care Ontario CEO Sue VanderBent said in a statement issued on Friday.

The 2021 Ontario budget assumed seniors requiring care at home would receive nearly 34 million hours of care from personal support workers and 9.2 million visits from nurses and other therapists.

The Financial Accountability Office (FAO) estimated last May that hours of home care performed by personal support workers would need to increase by 5.5 per cent over the next three years, and nursing visits by 4.3 per cent just to meet the requirements of seniors living at home.

Ontario spent $3.08 billion on home care in the 2020-2021 fiscal year.

VanderBent says this figure needs to increase by at least $600 million.

She said the major efforts by the Ford government to increase spending in the long-term care sector are drawing away nurses and personal support workers from the home care field.

She estimates the home care sector needs to retain or attract 3,810 nurses and personal support workers in order to provide the same volume of care and address needs of people undergoing long-overdue surgeries delayed during the depths of the pandemic.

“Ontarians are just not getting the level of care they need to stay safe and stable at home.

It’s a very real problem for hundreds of thousands of people and their families.”

The availability of nurses and other health-care workers is tight throughout the province’s health-care system due to ongoing pandemic burnout and wage restraint legislation passed by the Ford government.

The poll also found 93 per cent of males over the age of 65 and 91 per cent of respondents overall would prefer to remain in their homes longer over moving to long-term care if more services could be made available to them at home.

When asked if it was important to increase funding for home care given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on hospitals, 97 per cent of respondents said it was somewhat or very important to do so.

Eighty-seven per cent of respondents also told Campaign Research they would prefer to recover at home after surgery vs. staying in hospital.

Concerns over the cost, quality and availability of home care were most pronounced in northern Ontario and least pronounced in Toronto, Halton and Peel regions.

Campaign Research says a probability sample of a similar size to this online poll would have a margin of error of three per cent, 19 times out of 20.