What you need to know about for-profit long-term care and COVID-19 in Ontario

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The first and second waves of the pandemic saw a devastatingly high number of deaths in long-term care homes in Ontario.

The Star has learned long-term care homes in Ontario will be fully funded through the end of this summer regardless of how many residents they have or how badly they were hit by COVID-19, as Richard Warnica reports, after the provincial government quietly extended an occupancy agreement due to expire at the end of March.

Warnica’s story is the latest story of many that examine the for-profit long-term care sector in Ontario. Here’s a look at some prior coverage:

Feb. 6, 2021: Already controversial for its ownership of Revera, one of Canada’s largest pension plans has just announced a $700-million joint venture with an architect of ‘the big short’

More than a decade after the 2008 financial crash, on the other side of the continent, across the border in a business world mired in a pandemic fugue, a Canadian Crown corporation signed a massive partnership with a hedge fund called Pretium Partners. The deal, a joint venture worth $700 million (U.S.), dropped the Public Sector Pension Investment Board, or PSP, into the world Maya Abood had spent all those years studying. If the housing crash made a sound, Pretium’s business is the echo, and now PSP, which manages the pension funds of federal employees, the RCMP and the military, was right in the heart of it.

From the outside, the timing seemed curious. The last year had been something of an annus horribilis for PSP. Before the pandemic, it was not a particularly prominent institution. But COVID-19 had shone a new, less than flattering, light on the fund. PSP owns one of Canada’s largest for-profit operators of long-term-care homes, a company called Revera.

Jan. 27, 2021: Pension plans own millions of shares in Ontario long-term-care homes, where COVID-19 has killed thousands. Now, some are pulling their money out of the for-profit facilities

Pension funds around the world have invested more than $44 million of retirement savings into Ontario’s for-profit nursing homes, where severe outbreaks of COVID-19 have killed aging residents in staggering numbers.

At least two of these pension funds, including the Canada Pension Plan, have divested millions from the companies since the pandemic began, selling at a loss. The moves highlight ethical questions for seniors whose livelihoods rely on dividends from companies accused of scrimping on seniors in their care.

The Star has also confirmed two major European funds are reviewing their substantial stock holdings in Ontario long-term-care chains Extendicare, Sienna Senior Living and Chartwell Retirement Residences to determine if they contravene their ethical investment guidelines.

Jan. 26, 2021: The problem with profits: As Ontario’s long-term-care homes stagger under a COVID death toll of more than 3,000, some say it’s time to shut down for-profit homes for good

Nick Hood, a 72-year-old corporate adviser and former CEO and CFO, lives on the edge of the English countryside in a leafy suburb north of London that is almost comically British and upper middle class.

For most his professional life, Hood has been proudly, and quite successfully, corporate. He worked in finance. He believes in private enterprise. When he ran away as a young man, it was to Ontario, to work as an accountant.

That may be why, when Hood talks about seniors’ care, he can surprise even himself with his fervour. “I sound like a socialist,” he said when I spoke to him over the phone. “I sound like Bernie Sanders.” (He pronounced it with a long ‘u,’ like “Saunders.”) “But nonetheless, that is where I have arrived.”

In 2012, Hood, who was then the chairman of a corporate restructuring firm, was asked to publish a report on the British care-home sector — a largely publicly-funded, privately-run space roughly equivalent to Ontario’s long-term-care industry. For Hood, it was, at the time, largely a PR exercise; a consultant thought the work might drum up business for his firm. But what he found when he dug into the sector appalled him. “It was horrifying,” he said.

Jan. 20, 2021: Ontario’s for-profit nursing homes have 78% more COVID-19 deaths than non-profits, report finds

For-profit nursing homes have a higher risk of COVID-19 outbreaks and deaths than non-profit facilities, the science table advising Premier Doug Ford says in a new report echoing previous advice for the government to improve conditions in long-term care.

The scientists, including doctors and epidemiologists, call for less crowding of residents in Ontario’s 626 nursing homes, paid sick leave and more full-time jobs for workers to limit the number of transient temporary staff that spread illness from one facility to another.

Their report paints an alarming picture of for-profit nursing homes in the pandemic, particularly those owned and operated by chains — which were not mentioned by name.

Dec. 26, 2020: Big for-profit long-term-care companies paid out more than $170 million to investors through Ontario’s deadly first wave

In the first nine months of 2020, as the COVID-19 catastrophe unfolded across Ontario, the three largest publicly traded long-term-care operators in the province made huge payouts to investors while taking millions in government funds, data shows.

A Star analysis of the financial statements of Extendicare, Sienna Senior Living and Chartwell Retirement Residences shows that in the first three quarters of 2020 (ending Sept. 30), these for-profit companies collectively paid out nearly $171 million to shareholders at the same time they received $138.5 million through provincial pandemic pay for front-line workers, the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) program or other pandemic funding.

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Nov. 13, 2020: For-profit long-term-care homes once again seeing significantly worse outcomes in Ontario’s second wave, Star analysis finds

Residents of Ontario’s for-profit long-term-care homes were still experiencing significantly worse COVID-19 outcomes — both cases and deaths — than those living in municipal or non-profit facilities, a Star analysis showed last November.

According to available data on Ontario’s second wave, the province’s long-term-care facilities were experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks at about the same rate, regardless of whether they’re run by for-profit corporations or not. But once the virus arrives, for-profit facilities have fared far worse — much as they did during the first wave of COVID-19 infections that swept through Ontario nursing homes in the spring, killing more than 1,800 people and prompting a provincial commission to examine the problem.