Family seeks change to law after mother’s room at Niagara LTC lacked air conditioner in heat wave

Picture of air conditioning unit placed inside a resident's unit at Royal Rose Place in Welland, Ont. on July 22, 2022 during a late July heat wave. Provided to Global News

The daughter of a Niagara long-term care resident is calling on Ontario to fix what she calls “inadequate” air conditioning legislation passed last year by the Ford government.

Christine Zuk says she’s reached out to Niagara Centre MPP Jeff Burch and the premier’s office in the hope of getting action on what she calls “a failure” to ensure “proper” air conditioning in long-term care homes.

“The legislation says ‘all resident bedrooms are to be served by air conditioning.’ So what does ‘served by’ mean? It does not seem to mean that each room has a proper source of air conditioning,” Zuk wrote in her letter to Burch.

Read more: 90 Ontario long-term care homes still not fully air-conditioned, ministry says

The Oakville resident told Global News she was unhappy when her bed-bound mom at Royal Rose Place in Welland, Ont., was not being serviced by an air conditioning unit during a recent visit amid a late July heat wave.

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A spokesperson for the home said the issue was connected with an HVAC breakdown July 22 requiring portable air conditioning units be deployed throughout the home with regular monitor checks.

“So it doesn’t seem that there’s a requirement to actually install a source of air conditioning within each room,” Zuk said.

“HVAC contractors responded immediately to investigate the breakdown and complete the necessary repairs,” Trevor Sykes, community relations coordinator for Royal Rose Place, told Global News.

“Our leadership team remained in the home over the weekend to directly monitor the situation and to ensure our residents’ care and comfort, which is a priority for us.”

According to Zuk, staff eventually installed a portable air conditioner in her mother’s room by request, bringing temperature down to a “tolerable” 25 degrees during the heat wave. Even so, the unit was installed right next to the bed, blowing cold air directly at her mother and couldn’t be moved due to the proximity of a needed call button secured to a wall.

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Zuk’s motivation for reaching out to the province, she says, is concern for residents that don’t have families advocating on their behalf.

She suggests the government needs to change the legislation requiring units in each tenants room and provide capital funding to make that happen.

A Ministry of Long-Term Care spokesperson told Global News they are aware of issues in 90 of 627 homes across the province and is working with each of them to bring them up to standards outlined in the Fixing Long-Term Care Act, 2021.

Read more: Nearly 100 Ontario long-term care homes haven’t installed air conditioning in all rooms

“As of July 19, 537 homes have in-room air conditioning – an increase from just over 40 per cent of homes in July 2020 to nearly 90 per cent today,” ministry spokesperson Mark Nesbitt told Global News in an email.

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“We are working with Infrastructure Ontario to provide every necessary resource to homes that are not yet fully air conditioned, including one-to-one support to identify cooling solutions and technical advice.”

The legislation requires “designated cooling areas” be available in a given home, served by air conditioning to maintain comfortable temperatures for residents.

It also requires operators to notify the ministry when air conditioning is not available in a resident’s room and disclose the information on their websites.

The regulation does not require an operator to place an air conditioning unit in every room, but calls for temperature checks three times a day.

“They must also undertake daily temperature monitoring in every resident’s room and report it to the ministry,” said Nesbitt.

“Temperature monitoring reports are reviewed by the Ministry’s Inspections Branch for follow-up and response, and there are plans in place for when temperatures exceed 26 degrees Celsius.”

However, how temperature checks are legislated – just a daily check of any two bedrooms on a given floor in the morning, afternoon and evening – is of further concern for Zuk.

Read more: Calls for more air conditioning in CHSLDs after data shows less than 50% of rooms have one

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“But those can be anywhere,” Zuk told 900 CHML’s Good Morning Hamilton.

“Some of the bedrooms that are closer to the common areas that are well air conditioned are a little bit cooler than the ones in the far corner like my mother’s.”

Sykes says Royal Rose has been “fully compliant” with air conditioning regulations since 2016.

“The home was initially designed and built with air conditioning in all areas of the home and our recently completed third floor addition has an air conditioning system of its own,” said Sykes.

He said the home is in regular contact with family members and hosts town hall sessions providing feedback on all issues, including the recent air flow problems.

Read more: Half a million Toronto residents sweltering in apartments with no A/C in summer heat

Seniors’ advocate and CEO of CanAge Laura Tamblyn Watts says Zuk’s situation is not new and that air conditioning is something her organization has been following for decades.

“The fact people are talking about it as if it’s a surprise is really shocking,” said Tamblyn Watts.

“We know that this has been a long-standing issue and one we talk about every summer.”

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She suggests complications for non-profit homes is the “timing” of how funding is issued by the province to advance the Infrastructure Ontario initiative getting homes up to code.

“We’re hearing, particularly from a number of not-for-profits who have a hard time making ends meet, that at the best of times the A/C project is not having the funds released quickly enough” Tamblyn-Watts said.

Ultimately, Zuk’s message to the province is they need to go back and “rewrite the regulations and inspect homes” with a view on how comfortable residents are.

Zuk says she’s not had any official response to her two letters written to MPP Burch and the premier’s office.

“I received a standard reply immediately thanking me and assuring me my message would be reviewed. Nothing substantive yet,’ said Zuk.

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