Ontario’s long term care homes feeling the pinch of pricey power

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Ontario's Long Term Care homes are feeling the pinch of pricey power. Facilities have seen an average 24 per cent increase in bills just over the past year. As Shirlee Engel reports, there are concerns about the sustainability of funding for the sector – Oct 6, 2016

Ontario’s long-term care homes warn the upkeep of hundreds of residences is in jeopardy with soaring hydro bills in the province.

According to the Ontario Long Term Care Association, which represents the majority of the province’s 630 long term care homes, electricity bills have gone up an average 24 percent over the past year alone.

The lowest increase was 18.9 percent, while the highest was 31.2 per cent between June 2015 and 2016.

“When utilities go up beyond what you’re expecting or what you’re budgeting for it can have a real impact on the home,” says Candace Chartier, Chief Executive Officer of the Ontario Long Term Care Association.

Chartier says the funding for hydro comes out of a separate funding envelope from resident care. It includes other costs like labour, property taxes and the maintenance of the buildings.

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“It just makes it a little more difficult to maintain the physical environment as opposed to the care environment,” she says.

Because long-term care homes are so heavily regulated in terms of care and safety standards, there are not many areas to cut back on. That means capital projects will either be put off or done in stages to spread costs over a longer period.

For a company like Caressant Care, which operates 15 long term care and 10 retirement homes across the province, it means fewer upgrades like new flooring and furniture. The company has seen an increase of 52 percent over the past three years across the properties it operates.

“It’s an alarming amount of money we’re talking about,” says Lee Griffi, Manager of Corporate Communications for Caressant Care Nursing and Retirement Homes. “If you have a single home operator who has a 60-bed long-term care home and he’s paying these hydro bills. That’s when someone is going to be in financial trouble.”

Part of the problem for long-term care homes is that they fall into a grey area when it comes to rebates. Too big to be an industry, too small to be a residence, they’re not eligible for certain rebates.

Chartier says the sector is still trying to clarify what rebates announced the recent Speech from the Throne will apply to the homes they represent. The Wynne government said it would rebate the eight per cent HST charge on hydro bills effective January 1, 2017.

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Ontario Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault says long-term care homes will get a rebate one way or another.

“Some of the smaller homes will get the eight per cent reduction. Some of the larger homes could be part of the (Industrial Conservation Initiative) program which can be up to 34 percent,” the minister told Global News.

Ontario’s opposition parties say the Wynne government’s hydro policies are putting a major strain on crucial institutions like long-term care homes, hospitals, schools, and municipalities.

“Certainly when it comes to long-term care or hospitals, there has to be some recognition of that what the government can do,” says PC Leader Patrick Brown. “It has to be something, it can’t be the status quo.”

With electricity prices expected to increase even more in the coming years, there is concern about the long-term sustainability of a sector that hasn’t seen subsidies keep up with inflation over the past decade.

The number of people aged 75 and over in the province is projected to more than double to 2.7 million by 2041. The 90+ group will almost quadruple in size, from 109,000 to 413,000.