Editor's note: This article originally appeared on The Trillium, a new Village Media website devoted exclusively to covering provincial politics at Queen’s Park.
The Ontario government is following through on its commitment to boost funding for long-term care staffing so that homes can increase the hands-on care time residents get each day.
Minister Paul Calandra announced Friday that the government will increase funding for direct care by $1.25 billion in the next budget. By the government's calculations, that should allow homes to achieve the province's target of an average of three hours and 42 minutes of care per resident per day across the province.
The government's promise is to reach four hours a day by March 2025.
"Simply put, this investment is making a drastic difference in the lives of residents across the province of Ontario," said Calandra at the not-for-profit Rekai Centre at Wellesley Central Place in Toronto.
However, the long-term care sector has flagged some structural problems, especially in the not-for-profit sector, that put the four-hour goal at risk.
AdvantAge Ontario, an association representing non-profit long-term care homes in Ontario, has been outspoken in advocating for the province to stop "price gouging" by some temporary staffing agencies.
In some cases, the agencies poach staff at long-term care homes and then, when the homes have trouble filling vacancies due to the health-system wide shortage of nurses and personal support workers, they send them back to homes at highly inflated wages, plus agency fees.
AdvantAge said in February it surveyed 100 of its LTC homes and found they are spending $6 million per month on temporary staff, with nearly half saying they are now unsure they will meet the government target of four hours of daily direct care.
Calandra's deputy minister has consulted with AdvantAge and the Ontario Long-Term Care Association, which represents all types of long-term care homes in Ontario, on the issue of agency price gouging. However, he couldn't say Friday what kind of action the government will take on the issue, or when.
AdvantAge CEO Lisa Levin took part in Calandra's funding announcement Friday and welcomed it.
"It's good to see the government has kept its commitment to have the four hours of care in place for residents in long term care," she said. "It's going to make a huge difference."
Levin said she was also happy to see the government planning to take action on agency fees.
Homes will use the money the province announced to hire more workers to give more care to residents, but that is limited when they have to pay exorbitant fees to staffing agencies to fill staffing shortages, which persist, Levin said.
The problem is acute for non-profit homes because the wages they can offer to attract workers has been restrained by government legislation known as Bill 124, according to Levin. For-profit and municipal homes were not subject to it.
"That meant that our homes weren't able to raise wages for a number of years," said Levin. "And that's made it harder, especially given the pandemic, for them to keep staff and to attract staff, and that's also exacerbated the agency issue."
Bill 124 was struck down by the court of appeal but the government is seeking to appeal that decision to the Supreme Court of Canada. Calandra said Friday he could not comment on that as it is still before the court.