Tuesday July 05, 2022

Long-term care

January 27, 2021

When it became clear last fall that the province’s long-term care (LTC) homes were about to be engulfed by the second wave of the pandemic, the Ford government swung into action.

Wasting no time, it promptly introduced legislation – legislation that gave the corporate owners of long-term care homes extra protection from lawsuits that were accumulating against them.

Tragically, the province has shown no such speed or dedication to the task of providing extra protection – or much protection at all – to the elderly people who live in these homes and who, unlike the corporate owners, really are helpless to defend themselves.

It’s striking that Premier Doug Ford has given priority to the interests of these corporate owners even as the coronavirus has swept through LTC homes, turning them into gruesome death traps and claiming the lives of almost 3,000 residents.

Investigations, including those done by Toronto Star reporters, have found that the coronavirus death rate has been significantly higher in for-profit homes than in not-for-profit homes.

Dramatic as this finding is, it may only hint at the extent of the problem resulting from allowing the for-profit sector to operate in the Long-Term care industry.

Indeed, the greatest danger may be posed by the emergence in the industry of ‘financialized’ enterprises – firms that operate according to a more bare-knuckle type of capitalism, associated with the financial industry, that focuses relentlessly on cost-cutting to drive ever-higher profit margins.

These financialized firms – which include private equity funds and real estate investment trusts (REIT) – have become a major presence in the seniors housing industry. They operate large chains and now control just over 30 percent of government-funded LTC homes in Ontario.

Perhaps not surprisingly, LTC homes controlled by these financialized firms have experienced even higher coronavirus death rates than LTC homes controlled by other for-profit operators, according to Martine August, assistant professor at the University of Waterloo’s School of Planning.

So if there are concerns about permitting profit-making in homes caring for the elderly – and there should be – these financialized firms should be particularly setting off alarms.

The financialized firms are “like private ownership on steroids,” August says.

One concern is the impact on labor, the biggest cost driver in LTC homes. Unions representing LTC workers charge that for-profit homes generally pay very low wages and offer mostly part-time and casual work – reducing the chance of meaningful relationships developing between staff and residents.

Excerpted: ‘Bare-Knuckle Capitalism has No Place in Nursing Homes’