The design, upkeep, and tenure of a building factor heavily into its susceptibility to the spread of COVID-19, a reality sadly evident in many of Ontario's long-term care (LTC) facilities. Of the 626 such establishments spread across the province, 137, or 21.9% of homes have active outbreaks, which along with resolved outbreaks have resulted in a cumulative 2,400 resident and eight staff deaths. Even with a vaccine rollout targeting these vulnerable institutions, outbreaks are expected to remain an issue.  

Proposed Lakeside Long Term Care Centre Expansion, image via submission to City of Toronto

More can be done to prevent future epidemic and pandemic scenarios from disproportionately affecting LTC residents and staff. Many movers and shakers within the building industry have been advancing solutions since the crisis went global. Earlier this year, the Carpenters' District Council of Ontario (CDCO), working with a team of university students from its research department, began to explore factors such as the age and infrastructure of LTC facilities in the province, with an aim to find new opportunities to improve safety, care, and housing of residents through renovations and updates to building infrastructure.

"Physically reconfiguring patient rooms and addressing major structural issues, such as outdated HVAC and electrical systems, are just a few examples of what we're seeing that needs to be done," reads a statement issued by Mike Yorke, President, CDCO. "Now's the time to bring Ontario's long-term care homes and hospitals into the 21st century."

The resulting findings revealed in July suggested that roughly one-third of LTC beds in Ontario were located in facilities approaching 50 years old and that the highest infection rates occurred in LTC facilities built to standards established in 1972, typically with four beds sharing a room and one bathroom. These findings underlined how buildings, along with their design and maintenance, can contribute to the spread of COVID-19, extending beyond just LTC facilities and to hospitals as well.

CDCO's solution is a proposed radical overhaul of aging LTC facilities, which the union is well-primed to execute with their crews rigorously trained and certified in Infection Control Risk Assessment (ICRA). "COVID-19 has highlighted the need to renovate these facilities. In so doing, we all need to reassess what the future of long-term care could look like, and this is a real opportunity to make all Ontario's LTC facilities safer and much healthier for current and future residents," stated Mark Lewis, General Counsel, CDCO.

ICRA training, image courtesy of CDCO

As part of their involvement in promoting the urgency of LTC modernization, the CDCO is participating in a seminar on December 16th at 1 PM, hosted by the Canadian Centre for Healthcare Facilities. The session titled LTC & SENIORS HOMES: Safe Interiors & Renovations is to be led by The College of Carpenters and Allied Trades' ICRA lead, Adam Bridgman, who we spoke with earlier this year on the topic of ICRA training in the pandemic landscape. The seminar will offer LTC owners, operators, and construction designers the opportunity to learn about what to expect to ensure their site is adequately prepared for the future.

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