TORONTO -- The Ontario government announced some major developments for long-term care in the province in response to the "cracks" the COVID-19 pandemic revealed in the system.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford made the announcements at a news conference on Wednesday, saying that the province will be taking on a new strategy to developing long-term care and will ensure all long-term care homes have air conditioning.

“The cracks in the system can no longer be ignored … We need to tear down and redevelop old homes and we need to build new ones,” Ford told reporters.

“We inherited a broken system, a system where tens of thousands of seniors were left on waitlists for beds … a system where many seniors are denied the comforts of air conditioning during the summer months.

“Our seniors deserve nothing less. They deserve a place that feels like home, a place that is safe and comfortable.”

The province said the “Long-Term Care Development Modernization Strategy” will move “away from a one-size fits all approach” to allow the government to address the “different barriers and needs across the province.”

The premier said that the new approach will ensure that beds are “developed and redeveloped” in places most in need and will create 8,000 new long-term care beds and 12,000 redeveloped beds in the coming years.

Last year, the province announced $1.75 billion toward long-term care. The province now says that money will be used for the same purpose but allocated depending on geographical needs.

Air conditioning to be mandatory

Premier Ford announced that the government will establish a fund to ensure long-term care homes in need have working air conditioning.

The premier also said that starting immediately all new or renovated homes will be mandated to have working air conditioning, something that "should have been done many years ago.”

“Working with the long-term care sector, our government will dedicate the funding necessary to ensure long-term care homes in need have working air conditioning,” Ford said. “No longer will the seniors and the staff in our long-term care homes have to suffer through the summer heat.”

Both for-profit and not-for-profit homes will have access to government’s funds to install air conditioning.

Last month, Ford slammed long-term care home owners who don't have air conditioning at their facilities, saying he'd "like to stick them in the rooms for 24 hours at 30 degree heat and see how they like it."

Ford said he would personally call the owners of homes in Ontario without air conditioning and plead with them to have it installed. The government said it does not know how many of its existing 626 long-term care homes do not have air conditioning and will be conducting a survey to find out. 

Indoor long-term care visits to restart

Minister of Long-Term Care Merrilee Fullerton announced on Wednesday that indoor visits will soon be permitted at long-term care homes in the province.

This comes months after long-term care homes shuttered their doors to indoor visitors in an effort to keep residents safe and stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams had advised long-term care homes in late March to only allow essential visitors, including people visiting residents who are extremely ill or require end-of-life care.

Last month, families were finally able to reunite with loved ones when the province began a “cautious restart” of visits to long-term care homes.

In long-term care, only one visitor per resident was allowed to come by weekly for an outdoor meeting. They were also required to have proof of a negative COVID-19 test within the past 14 days.

“I know this has been incredibly difficult for many, including loved ones, essential care givers and families,” Fullerton told reporters on Wednesday.

“Effective immediately, now two people at a time can visit a loved one at a long-term care during an outdoor visit. Those visitors will no longer be required to take a COVID-19 test.”

Fullerton said that starting July 22, indoor visits too will be permitted for up to two people per resident at a time. In order to visit indoors, a COVID-19 test will still be required.