Premier Doug Ford says the province will take over several of the province’s worst-hit long-term care homes, including four homes that were the subject of a damning report by the Canadian Armed Forces.

“Effective immediately, we have begun the process of taking over management at five additional homes in the system that we are currently most concerned about,” the premier said at a news conference Wednesday.

Those homes include Eatonville Care in Etobicoke, Hawthorne Place in North York, Altamount Care in Scarborough, Orchard Villa in Pickering and Camilla Care in Mississauga.

"We've already taken over two homes because we had concerns and now we are moving to take over these five homes because in the face of those accusations, in the face of these problems, we will use every tool at our disposal,” Ford said Wednesday.

Aside from Camilla Care, all the homes were included in a damning report released by the Canadian Armed Forces Tuesday which detailed alarming conditions for residents, including infrequent and improper cleaning, improper feeding that may have contributed to at least one death, a lack of infection control that saw confirmed positive COVID-19 patients wander to areas where non-infected patients were being sheltered and a general reluctance to use and change personal protective equipment because of cost.

[READ MORE: Full military report into Ontario long-term care homes]

Ford said one of the homes listed in the military’s report, Holland Christian Homes Grace Manor, has since made changes and will not be taken over.

Ford said the province will be dispatching six teams of two inspectors to each of the five homes.

“We need boots on the ground. I want eyes and ears in the homes that we're most worried about keeping close watch," he said.

Those inspectors will carry out “expanded and rigorous inspection and monitoring” for two weeks, Ford said. Over that period, at least one inspector from each team will stay at the assigned home.

The inspectors will be tasked with conducting “in-depth” interviews with staff and residents, reviewing charts and records, and reporting back their findings.

Ford said 13 other Ontario long-term care homes “that are facing the greatest challenges in managing the outbreak” will be subject to “rigorous inspections” over the next 21 days.

Over the next month, the Ministry of Long-Term Care will also conduct random spot checks of both high-risk and unflagged homes  across the province, Ford said.

The premier said that while he believes the military’s report highlighted “the worst of the worst,” he is prepared to take further action wherever it is needed.

"We are looking at all options,” Ford said. “We are fully prepared to take over more homes if necessary. We are fully prepared to pull licences, to shut down facilities, if it is necessary. We will do whatever it takes for as long as it takes."

Association calls for more help in long-term care homes

In a statement Wednesday, the Ontario Long Term Care Association – which represents long-term care homes in the province – said that they support an investigation into abuses, but want to see action to address systemic problems in long-term care homes.  

“There is zero tolerance for abuse or neglect in the care of our most vulnerable seniors, and Ontario’s long-term care homes support the provincial government’s efforts to investigate where this may have occurred,” the statement read.

 “Inspections are important measures, however they do not provide the immediate resources and hands-on support homes urgently need on the frontlines of the fight against COVID-19, nor do they address longstanding systemic and structural issues exacerbated by the pandemic that threaten its sustainability.”

The association called for a number of improvements, including PPE supplies, better access to rapid testing, investment in older homes to allow for better infection-prevention measures and more support from hospitals and other health care providers.

Province to establish commission this summer

Ford also said the province will establish an independent and transparent commission sooner to look into the handling of COVID-19 at the province’s long-term care homes.

Ford said the commission will get started in July, rather than September as originally planned, and will be similar to the commission that examined SARS. He said it will be independent of the government and will be charged with getting “to the bottom” of what went wrong.

"I will do every in my power because we are talking about someone's parent, someone's grandparent, someone who built this country and this province,” Ford said. “That is worth anything in the world and that's who I'm going to keep fighting for each and every day."

Asked if he would appear as a witness himself, Ford said “absolutely.”

"Absolutely I'd appear. They have the full authority to investigate our government, my office, the ministry's office. We want this to happen, we have been working 24/7, around the clock.

Horwath says full public inquiry needed

Provincial opposition Leader Andrea Horwath responded to Ford’s announcement Wednesday and said that it does not go far enough. She said the government should be launching a full public inquiry rather than a commission.

“The bottom line is the only way that this is going to be a process that is in the public view, that is transparent, is through a full public inquiry; not a commission which happens through the back doors,” Horwath said. The premier talks about ‘yes he’ll be become a witness’ but nobody will be able to see him become a witness. Nobody will be able to see him provide his testimony because these things are going to happen behind closed doors.”

Horwath said the government has been too slow to take action at homes that were “deeply in crisis” and said proactive inspections should now be taking place at all of the province’s long-term care homes, as opposed to merely responding to complaints.

Minister of Long-Term Care Merrilee Fullerton said Wednesday that the crisis facing some homes now was not due to a lack of inspections, but rather a systemic staffing shortage.

"What we do know is the homes that get in COVID-19 positive situations can spiral out of control very quickly and that's partly due to the staffing shortage that was pre-existing before COVID-19 and amplified by COVID-19,” she said in the news conference with Ford. “The inspections, if you did them every five minutes it wouldn't have changed the crises in staffing in our long-term care homes."

Ford said he stands “100 per cent” behind Fullerton and Health Minister Christine Elliott when it comes to tackling the problems facing the homes.

UNIFOR President Jerry Dias told CP24 Tuesday that his union, which represents workers at a number of other homes in the province, has been advocating for a set number of care hours for each resident to be mandated through government regulation.

Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has called for an end to for-profit care homes in the wake of the military’s report.

At least 1,350 residents of long-term care homes and four staff members have died since the outbreak started to flare up in facilities in mid-March.