TORONTO — Ontario is taking over management of four of the five long-term care homes that were the subject of a Canadian Armed Forces report alleging “horrific” conditions, including insect infestations, poor hygiene and aggressive behaviour toward residents.

The government will be conducting “extremely rigorous” inspections of those homes, as well as 13 others facing challenges managing COVID-19, and will be doing random spot checks across the province, Premier Doug Ford said Wednesday.

“We’re looking at all options,” he said.

“We’re fully prepared to take over more homes if necessary. We’re fully prepared to pull licences, to shut down facilities if necessary.”

The province has started the takeover process at Eatonville Care Centre, Hawthorne Place Care Centre, Altamont Care Community, Orchard Villa, as well as Camilla Care Community, which was not in the report but has seen 61 residents die during a COVID-19 outbreak.

Ford said he is also expediting an independent commission into long-term care and is hopeful it will be established in July.

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The Ontario Long-Term Care Association said it supports provincial efforts to investigate any abuse or neglect, but also called for the government to help in other ways.

“Inspections are important measures, however they do not provide the immediate resources and hands-on support homes urgently need on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19, nor do they address long-standing systemic and structural issues exacerbated by the pandemic that threaten its sustainability,” CEO Donna Duncan said in a statement.

The association wants to see a greater supply of personal protective equipment, more rapid testing, infection control help for older homes, more supports from hospitals and expedited capital funding.

Ontario called in military assistance last month for five long-term care homes dealing with COVID-19 outbreaks, and the Canadian Armed Forces members said they observed cockroach infestations, aggressive feeding that caused choking, bleeding infections, and residents crying for help for hours.

Ford has also said Ontario has launched a “full investigation” into the allegations and will share the results with police so they can look into any possible criminal charges.

The province previously appointed hospitals to take over the management of two long-term care homes that have been unable to contain COVID-19.

Four of the five homes in the military report are private, but Ford has said creating a fully public system wouldn’t be feasible without financial help from Ottawa.

Number of outbreaks drops

The number of long-term care homes dealing with COVID-19 outbreaks dropped to 135 on Wednesday from 150 the day before.

According to Ministry of Long-Term Care data, 1,587 residents and six staff members have died due to COVID-19.

More than 200 residents alone have died at the five homes where the military has been assisting. Orchard Villa has now recorded 69 COVID-19 deaths, while Altamont has recorded 52 and Eatonville 42.

Hawthorne Place has seen 43 residents die — more than double the number of fatalities at the time military help was requested, and four more than Tuesday. Eleven residents have died at Grace Manor. That home is now meeting certain conditions, Ford said.

Other allegations in the military’s report included failure to isolate COVID-19-positive patients, stage four pressure ulcers (in which the damage can extend down to bone), expired medication, patients being left in soiled diapers, leaving food out of reach so residents miss meals, and “significant” fecal contamination in resident rooms.

The military report said the province wants to transition military support from those homes where the situation has stabilized, and is looking to Downsview Long-Term Care Centre as the next location. That home has seen 52 deaths, up from 40 last week.

Nearly all visits have been banned at long-term care homes for months as Ontario tried to contain the spread of COVID-19 in those facilities, but associate chief medical officer of health Dr. Barbara Yaffe said that officials are “seriously considering” new family visitor policies.

Fewer than 300 new cases reported

Provincewide, Ontario reported 292 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, and 32 more deaths.

It’s the second straight day of fewer than 300 new cases, which follows several consecutive days of more than 400.

Chief medical officer of health Dr. David Williams said the numbers are encouraging, and if they continue, Ontario may have good news on a policy of extending household “bubbles.”

The provincial total is now 26,483, an increase of 1.1 per cent over the previous day. The total includes 2,155 deaths and 20,372 resolved cases.

The number of tests reported on Wednesday jumped to 15,133, from just 9,875 the previous day. It’s the first time in 10 days that the province has come close to its goal of completing 16,000 tests per day.

Meanwhile, Ontarians will not be allowed to dine in bars and restaurants, gather in groups larger than five, or use playground equipment and public pools until at least mid-June.

The provincial government is extending its COVID-19 emergency orders until June 9.

The orders include the closure of child-care centres, libraries except for pickup and delivery, theatres, and bars and restaurants except to provide takeout or delivery.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 27, 2020.

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