Caressant Care Harriston fails to meet provincial deadline for air conditioning

Air conditioning expected to be blowing at Harriston nursing home by end of month

HARRISTON – For close to 50 days, the Caressant Care long-term care home in Harriston has gone without meeting a provincial requirement for all residents’ rooms to be outfitted with air conditioning.

The Ministry of Long-Term Care (MLTC) gave home operators 82 days to install air conditioning in all resident rooms, having passed legislation in 2021 before properly informing operators of the new requirement on April 1, with a June 22 deadline.

The for-profit nursing home is the only one of eight total homes throughout the county to be non-compliant at a time when temperatures have crept over 30 degrees Celsius, and humidex values have neared 40, provoking local heat warnings and increasing the risk of illnesses such as heat stroke.

Of the 46 rooms currently occupied by 73 residents at the Harriston nursing home, none have working air conditioning.

Caressant Care also operates locations in Arthur and Fergus, which do meet air conditioning requirements.

Echoing similar explanations given by other non-compliant homes throughout the province, Caressant Care spokesperson Stuart Oakley stated in an email to the Advertiser that “a scheduling conflict with the contractor,” along with supply chain challenges, led to the home’s failure to meet the June 22 deadline.

The heating and cooling company did not respond to an email from the Advertiser seeking to verify the spokesperson’s statement.

Media reports and MLTC statements have revealed 90 homes were without completed air conditioning throughout the province a month after the deadline passed.

In an emailed response to the Advertiser, MLTC senior issues and media advisor Tania Eckstrom stated “some homes continue to face challenges meeting these requirements, largely due to global supply chain issues, and in some cases, due to complex structural challenges, such as [a] lack of electrical capacity.”

The same explanation for the delay was shared by Ontario Long-Term Care Association CEO Donna Duncan, who stated in a July 21 social media post, “Many of the homes are older and have a lack of electrical capacity or other structural issues … and supply chain issues are affecting everything …”

Eckstrom also noted the province had been trying to work with long-term care homes to install air conditioning since last summer and made available $96.9 million of taxpayer dollars to “help all remaining long-term care homes meet the regulatory requirement for air conditioning.”

Debra Maxfield, chair of the Canadian Union of Public Employees’ Health Care Workers Coordinating Committee, admonished the provincial government in a July 21 press release, saying air conditioning units should have been installed before the “summer’s scorching heat” arrived.

Maxfield, who is also a personal support worker, also said non-compliant homes are “bad operators” and advocated for “immediate action.”

“Seniors have already paid the price, and more will suffer without immediate access to air conditioning. This is not the time for the government to continue to be absent,” Maxfield said.

In his email, the Caressant Care spokesperson admitted the Harriston nursing home was non-compliant, but followed the admission by saying the home was “in compliance with [provincial] air temperature requirements.”

Oakley explained that air temperature measurements are taken daily in each room (he did not specify at what time) and are reported to the province.

“Temperature monitoring reports” are reviewed by the MTLC, Eckstrom confirmed.

As of Aug. 5, temperature readings had not reached above 26 degrees Celsius, according to Oakley.

Should temperatures reach that threshold, he said curtains are closed, residents are relocated to air conditioned hallways and lounges, water is offered, residents are dressed in lighter, cooler clothing, and air temperatures are checked several times throughout the day.

“In fact some residents are using our warm blankets as they are complaining of being cold,” Oakley stated.

“So, our residents are not really impacted with the temperatures.”

Fergus-based Upper Grand Refrigeration was on-site last week installing air conditioning in rooms, according to Oakley.

He said installation was completed in around 11 rooms as of Aug. 5, but none of the units were yet running.

“None are operating until all the work is completed, and we are hopeful that will be by the end of August,” Oakley said.

Eckstrom stated long-term care homes must meet regulatory standards — acknowledging that Caressant Care’s Harriston location had failed in that regard — and added “we expect them to get it done as soon as possible.”

Eckstrom failed to answer a specific question about the consequences for failing to meet the provincial deadline, and responded instead with a 53-word paragraph about inspections and non-compliance in general.