Premier Doug Ford vowed Thursday to strengthen the province’s long-term care home in an emotional news conference the same day it was revealed that his 95-year-old mother-in-law has tested positive for COVID-19.

“When I think of long-term care my heart breaks for people and their families. Can we do better in the system? Absolutely,” Ford said.

He went on to say that he’s “heartbroken” by images of parents talking to children through panes of glass.

“I relate to it in our own family as I mentioned with my wife Karla,” Ford said, becoming visibly emotional.

Ford’s office later confirmed that Karla Ford’s 95-year-old mother is in a long-term care facility and has tested positive for COVID-19.

“Our family is going through it, along with 70,000 other families that have a loved one in these homes and it’s very difficult. I recognize that the system is broken and we’re going to fix the system,” Ford went on to say in the news conference.

“But in the meantime the number one crisis is making sure that we take care of these most vulnerable people in these homes and we’re going to do it. I’m pushing the system constantly, constantly on all fronts.”

Public Health officials reported Thursday that 516 of Ontario’s 713 COVID-19 deaths – some 72 per cent – are accounted for by long-term-care residents.  As of Thursday there were 132 outbreaks at Ontario long-term care homes, with 2,189 cases among residents and 1,058 cases among staff.

The province has called in the Canadian Armed Forces to help manage an explosion of cases and deaths at Ontario’s long-term care homes.

Ford said Thursday that officials are still deciding which homes will receive help from the military.  He indicated that they will likely be the homes facing the most difficult challenges at the moment. He said details about the military deployment are expected to be unveiled over the next day or so.

The province did not unveil any specific new plans for fixing a system that has been susceptible to rapid spread of the virus.

Ford said that one of the steps the province is already taking is on working to increase the number of tests being carried out in Ontario on a daily basis.  

An emergency order previously issued by the province also limits staff at long-term care homes to working in just one setting to help curb the spread of the virus.

Minister of Long-Term Care Merrilee Fullerton said at the same news conference with the premier Thursday that her office had been working on a new vision for long-term-care homes prior to the pandemic.

“My heart breaks for families that are affected by this and the staff that is working so valiantly to fight against this virus,” Fullerton said. “Our long-term care homes are truly on the front lines of this war with cover 19.”

She said that prior to the pandemic, she was engaged in promoting a new vision for long-term care homes as “a place where people would go to live, not just stay; a modern, 21st-century long-term care system that allowed people to be integrated with their communities and where the staff at our long-term care homes will also be treated with respect and dignity just like our long-term care residents.”

She also suggested that prior to COVID-19, there wasn’t strong public interest in modernizing the system.

“As a society we need to understand why there was no interest in that process we had begun,” Fullerton said. “As a society we have a moral imperative to improve our long-term care system and to allow our residents and staff to be treated with respect and dignity.”