The Ford government will require all new and newly renovated long-term care homes to be outfitted with air conditioning and will also establish a fund to help retrofit older homes.

Premier Doug Ford made the announcement at Queen’s Park on Wednesday, noting that it is something “that should have been done many years ago.”

He said that “beginning immediately” any new or newly renovated long-term care home will be mandated to have air conditioning.

He said that the government will also provide “dedicated funding” to ensure that existing long-term care homes without it can have working air conditioning.

The government, however, does not know how many of the province’s existing 626 long-term care homes are in need and will be conducting a survey to assess the extent of the problem.

It should be noted that the provincial Long-Term Care Act does not currently mandate air conditioning though it says that homes without it must have a “cooling plan” in place.

“I am one hundred per cent committed to seeing this through,” Ford said. “No longer will the seniors and the staff have to suffer through the summer heat.”

The mandating of air conditioning in new and newly renovated long-term care homes comes just one week after Ford called the lack of sufficient air conditioning in some facilities “unacceptable” and said that he would like to put the owners of some facilities “in the rooms for 24 hours at 30 degree heat and see how they like it."

Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath commented on the announcement in a press briefing this afternoon and said private long-term care homes should not receive funding from the government for air conditioners.

“These companies make profits hand over fists by cutting corners in long-term care already and not providing the quality of care and the amount of hands on care that our seniors deserve," Horwath said.

Speaking more generally on Wednesday, Ford said that it “can’t be business as usual” in the long-term care sector and that efforts need to be taken to “build a better system,” especially in light of issues brought to light by the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said that his government’s previously announced commitment of $1.75 billion to the sector will ultimately result in 8,000 new long-term care beds and 12,000 redeveloped beds in the coming years.

The dedicated funding to retrofit some existing homes will be on top of that $1.75 billion, though the government has not provided a number for how much money might be allotted to the effort at this point.

“I can tell you that there are no homes that have no air conditioning that are represented by the Ontario Long Term Care Association but there are issues with some of the older buildings in terms of the electrical system being able to take more of a load and all of these things have to be considered,” Minister of Long-Term Care Dr. Merrilee Fullerton said at Wednesday’s news conference. “It is complicated.”

Restrictions on visits at long-term care homes loosened

In addition to the announcement on air conditioning in long-term care facilities on Wednesday, the Ford government also announced that it is loosening some of the rules around visitors that were put in place earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic.

At one point visits to long-term care homes were not allowed at all but since June 18 visitors have been allowed to meet with loved ones outside provided that they met certain conditions. Indoor visits had remained prohibited due to concerns about the potential spread of COVID-19 but starting on July 22 that will change.

The Ford government says that indoor visits will be permitted for two people at a time, provided that the visitor has tested negative for COVID-19 in the previous two weeks.

Outdoor visits can also continue and the province is removing the requirement for those visitors to have tested negative for COVID-19.

“We must continue to be vigilant when visiting our loved ones in long-term care,” Fullerton said in making the announcement. “If you are feeling unwell please stay home.”