04/23/2020 15:55 EDT | Updated 04/24/2020 09:56 EDT

Doug Ford Vows To Overhaul Long-Term Care As Mother-In-Law Contracts Coronavirus

The premier said Ontario’s long-term care system needs to do better.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford vowed to “fix” Ontario’s long-term care system Thursday shortly before news broke that his own mother-in-law had contracted COVID-19 inside one of the homes.

“When I think of long-term care, my heart breaks for the people and their families. Can we do better in the system? Yeah ... absolutely,” Ford said at a press conference in Toronto. 

“When I see the front page of the Toronto Sun and you see the loved one with their elderly parent and they put their hand up against the window, that’s heartbreaking. I relate to it in our own family, as I mentioned, with my wife Karla,” he said, getting choked up. 

“Anyways, the system, we can do better.”

Toronto Sun
The cover of the Toronto Sun on April 23, 2020. Ontario Premier Doug Ford said the photo is "heartbreaking."

Ford had previously said that his wife is struggling with being separated from her elderly mother who lives in a long-term care home. His office told HuffPost Canada that Karla’s mother has tested positive for the virus. 

Neither Ford nor his minister of long-term care offered any specifics Thursday about what changes they intend to make in the system.

516 dead in long-term care

At least 516 people, including one worker, have died because of COVID-19 outbreaks in Ontario’s long-term care homes, as of Thursday afternoon.

The disease has taken on a separate, more dangerous trajectory in long-term care than it has in Ontario’s general community, officials said Monday.

It was almost impossible to separate residents living four to a room at Pinecrest Nursing Home in Bobcaygeon, Ont., the National Post has reported. The facility has seen 30 deaths related to COVID-19. 

Pinecrest was already understaffed when workers had to start isolating because they were showing symptoms, the Post reported. 

Unpredictable funding and multiple funding cuts are seriously destabilizing long-term care.Ontario Long-Term Care Association

The Ontario Long-Term Care Association, which represents about 70 per cent of Ontario’s 630 homes, has said that 80 per cent of its member homes have trouble filling shifts.

Unpredictable funding and multiple funding cuts are seriously destabilizing long-term care,” the Association wrote in its submission to the Progressive Conservative government ahead of its 2020 budget. 

Those homes need $184 million more annually than they’re currently getting, the submission said.

Minister says sector was ‘neglected’

Minister of Long-Term Care Merrilee Fullerton said Thursday that she started working on “staffing issues and redevelopment” as soon as she took over the portfolio. 

Ford’s government split long-term care from the health ministry and appointed a separate minister, Fullerton, in June 2019. 

“We knew that this long-term care sector had been neglected for many, many, many years. And we were taking action to change that when the pandemic hit,” the minister told reporters Thursday. 

She said she wants to build a “modern, 21st-century system” where residents and workers are treated with dignity and respect. 

She and Ford both skirted questions about what specific improvements should be made. 

“Make no mistake about it … we’re going to fix many systems down here,” Ford said, “no matter if it’s long-term care or just the way the government runs.”