Ontario will introduce steep new financial penalties for long-term care homes and permanently bar rule-breakers from working in the industry as part of long-awaited legislation to govern a sector, where more than 4,000 residents have died throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new legislation was first promised in the wake of a scathing report from Ontario's Long-Term Care Commission last spring which suggested that there was no plan to prepare the sector for the pandemic, effectively leaving residents as “easy targets.”

As part of the new legislation, Ontario will be doubling the maximum fines for offences under the act so that individuals can now be liable for up to $200,000 for a first offence and up to $400,000 for a second offence. Corporations can be fined up to $500,000 for a first offence and up to $1 million for a second offence.

The legislation will also prohibit any individual convicted of an offence under the act from “working for, volunteering for, or sitting on the board of a licensee or long-term care home” while also empowering provincial inspectors to issue various compliance actions, such as additional staff training.

The Minister of Long-Term Care will also be given the power to suspend a licence and have a supervisor take of the operations of any long-term care home, rather than revoking the licence and interrupting care for residents.

“We are trying to look to the future and trying to say how do we make sure the problems we had and the sort of things that we all saw and were shocked by don’t happen again,” Minister of Long-Term Care Rod Phillips told CP24 during an interview on Thursday afternoon. “Really that comes down to more staff, which we are going to be paying for and training, it comes down to better beds and more homes, the 30,000 of them we are building, and then this new set of rules. We are going to make sure that people are held accountable if they are operating a long-term care home.”

Homes must commit to quarterly reporting

There were nearly 15,000 cases of COVID-19 reported in Ontario’s long-term care homes during the first two waves of the pandemic, resulting in nearly 3,900 resident deaths.

At one point the situation grew so dire that the Ford government asked the Canadian Forces to help out at several hard-hit homes. That eventually led to a military report, which detailed disturbing conditions inside homes in Scarborough, Etobicoke, North York, Pickering and Brampton.

The new legislation tabled today will now require that homes report quarterly on various quality indicators as well as the results of standardized yearly surveys of residents and families.

The legislation will also mandate that all homes appoint an Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC) lead whose “primary responsibility” is running the IPAC program.

In a statement issued on Thursday afternoon, the Ontario Long-Term Care Association welcomed the legislation, which it says “lays the foundation for a modernized long-term care system focused on residents, their needs, and their quality of life.”

But in a separate statement Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca accused the Ford government of “doubling down on for-profit care.”

“Like so many others, I was optimistic about today’s long-term care announcement, and hopeful that the government had learned from its many mistakes during the pandemic. Instead of the landmark changes Ontarians are demanding, Doug Ford announced he is doing nothing to support the expansion of not-for-profit care and isn’t acting on many of the Long-Term Care Commission’s recommendations,” he said. “Ontario Liberals and advocates all agree that profit and care aren’t compatible.”

The new legislation replaces an act that was last updated in 2007.

It is part of a wider $4.9 billion plan to provide four hours of direct care per resident, per day by 2025.