TORONTO — The Ontario government’s plan to add 15,000 new beds to the long-term care system won’t be enough to stop wait lists from growing, the province’s fiscal watchdog said Wednesday.

A new report from Financial Accountability Officer Peter Weltman said wait lists are projected to peak at 40,200 people next year, dropping to about 37,000 once the new beds come online in 2023-2024.

But Weltman said the province’s ageing population will outpace the growth rate of the new long-term care beds, a fact that will hamper the government’s ability to make good on a pledge to end hospital over-crowding.

Thousands of those patients waiting for long-term care beds right now are doing so in the province’s hospitals, he said.

“We project that the wait time for a long-term care bed will peak in 2020,” Weltman said. “This implies that in the absence of any other health care sector changes, the problem of hallway health care will get worse over the next two years.”

Premier Doug Ford’s government promised the new beds in July 2018, and the FAO report said just over half of the spaces have been allocated across the province so far.

The expansion will cost $1.7 billion over the next five years, with on-going operational costs estimated at $970 million a year.

Weltman calls the Ford government’s plan the most significant investment in long-term care beds in 15 years, noting the number of spaces in the province virtually stagnated between 2011 and 2018.

While the number of Ontario residents over the age of 75 soared by 75 per cent during that period, he said the number of long-term care beds grew by less than one per cent.

But even the major expansion won’t be enough to make a dent in wait times, Weltman said, adding 55,000 new beds would have to be in place by 2033 in order to make a difference.

“It’s not going to change the status quo,” Weltman said of the Ford government’s plan. “It’s enough to maintain the status quo.”

Long-Term Care Minister Merrilee Fullerton said Weltman’s report clearly shows the scope of the problem. The government will deliver on the rest of its promised beds and also look at programs that help people to stay at home longer, she said.

“Essentially, almost nothing was done between 2011 and 2018,” she said. “We know we’re losing runway but we’re making sure that we’re putting the money (into) long-term care.”

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath shared Fullerton’s assessment of the previous Liberal government’s handling of long-term care beds, but said the Progressive Conservatives are also falling short.

“Shame on them,” she said of the Liberals. “But now we have a government that’s taking things from bad to worse. They know that is the reality but they’re not investing the kind of dollars necessary to solve the problem.”

Green party Leader Mike Schreiner agreed, noting current funding for long-term care will have larger implications for the entire health care system.

“The government doesn’t have any hope of addressing the hallway health care crisis if they’re not going to increase investments in long-term care facilities,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 30, 2019.

Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press

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