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2 Ontario LTC homes closing in part due to requirement for sprinkler system

Residents of a Guelph, Ont., long-term care home and their loved ones are shocked and afraid, says a representative of the families, after the home announced it’s closing in part because it won’t be able to meet an impending requirement to install a sprinkler system.

LaPointe-Fisher Nursing Home, a 92-bed facility with 146 people still on the waiting list, is one of at least two homes that have announced they will not be able to meet the Jan. 1, 2025 sprinkler deadline for long-term care homes in the province and will instead be closing.

There’s no doubt that fire safety is important, but losing long-term care spaces at a time of such critical need doesn’t make sense, said Lisa Sharp, president of the home’s family council.

“It feels wrong, and to do it when you know that long-term care, there’s such a need for it,” she said. “I’m disgusted to think that they’ve allowed a long-term care facility to close.”

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All long-term care homes in Ontario must have sprinkler systems installed by the end of this year, per changes announced a decade ago, and LaPointe-Fisher said meeting that requirement “has proved difficult” with the structural aspects of the aging building.

“With the safety and security of our residents being our highest priority, we feel that the age of our building and significant investments required to maintain its state of repair are not achievable in the current economic situation,” said a statement from the home.

“Due to a combination of other factors such as our upcoming license expiry, substantial increases in costs of construction, and health human resource challenges, we are forced to make the difficult decision to close our home.”

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Sharp’s partner Cathy, who is 65 and living with a disability and higher needs following an accident, has been at LaPointe-Fisher for five years. She is now worried about what comes next, Sharp said.

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“They’re all feeling exactly the same,” Sharp said.

“There’s still an element of shock and dismay. Everybody’s kind of glazed over. Those residents who are cognitively there, they’re shocked as well, because they’re all scared of what they’re going to do. This was their home and now they’re going to have to go somewhere else.”

Mount Nemo Christian Nursing Home in a rural area of Burlington, Ont., said a sprinkler system isn’t feasible in its current location, where it doesn’t have access to municipal services, and it also plans to close.

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“We rely on a well, and water filtration and septic systems, which would all require substantial upgrades in order to sustain a renovation or redevelopment of our current home to bring us up to current standards,” the home wrote on its website in January 2023.

It had been hoping that a closure could align with the opening of a new home in Hamilton, but that is set to open in late 2026. Mount Nemo now plans to close Sept. 13.

Long-Term Care Minister Stan Cho said the ministry is reviewing data on sprinkler compliance from a survey of homes to see how many might need further help. He has been talking to the Ministry of the Solicitor General “about any potential for exceptional cases.”

“It is a balance,” Cho said.

“The safety aspect of this is certainly important, but we have to be reasonable, understand that the pandemic was very disruptive to these homes in running their day-to-day operations, given the urgent nature of the care they needed to provide. So we’re doing our best to be reasonable with the homes.”

A spokesperson for Solicitor General Michael Kerzner said that his ministry, “through the Office of the Fire Marshal, has been in regular contact with the Ministry of Long-Term Care and its stakeholders to help ensure long-term care homes remain in compliance with Ontario’s Fire Code.”

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The Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs has long pushed for a legislated sprinkler requirement, particularly after a number of fatal fires in seniors’ homes across the province.

A 2009 fire at the Muskoka Heights Retirement Residence killed four people and left six elderly residents critically injured. A jury at a coroner’s inquest recommended automatic sprinklers, which the fire chiefs said was the fourth such jury to call for those systems in nursing and retirement homes.

St. Catharines Fire Services deputy chief Andrea DeJong, who is on the association of fire chiefs’ board of directors, said she doesn’t have a lot of sympathy for the owners of the homes facing closure.

“The owners and the companies that own long-term care homes have had more than 10 years to prepare and pre-budget and everything else,” she said.

“We don’t want these homes to close, but we also want them to be safe for the people, the residents that live in them, and we have been working collaboratively with the ministry.”

DeJong also said there are many rural buildings with sprinkler systems.

Donna Duncan, CEO of the Ontario Long-Term Care Association, said she believes only a minority of homes are struggling to meet the requirement, and is hopeful solutions can be found.

For Sharp, the LaPointe-Fisher home’s closing date of Nov. 29 is fast approaching.

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At the beginning of September, once the closure date is 12 weeks away, LaPointe-Fisher residents will be put on “crisis” admissions lists and government agencies will help place them in new homes, Sharp said. She and her partner are both anxious.

“They make friends in there, the staff, the residents,” Sharp said.

“Now, again, she has to start all over again, with a new roommate, with a new facility, new staff, training the staff on all the things that she likes to happen, the way she goes to bed at night.”

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