As people face long wait lists, these Windsor-Essex long-term care projects see significant delays

Long-term care projects announced for Windsor-Essex in 2022 have experienced significant setbacks. The government had said construction would begin sometime over the last two years, but none of the projects have started.  (Shutterstock - image credit)
Long-term care projects announced for Windsor-Essex in 2022 have experienced significant setbacks. The government had said construction would begin sometime over the last two years, but none of the projects have started. (Shutterstock - image credit)

As people in Windsor-Essex face lengthy wait lists to get into long-term care, multiple projects expected to bring hundreds of additional beds and some new facilities to the region are significantly lagging behind schedule.

In February 2022, then-minister of long-term care Paul Calandra announced that the provincial government would be adding 200 new long-term care beds and upgrading more than 500 others at four homes in Windsor-Essex. These beds also came with the promise of new facilities.

Construction on all of these projects was expected to begin sometime in the last two years.

But the operators of the four homes have confirmed with CBC News that construction has not started, and two haven't even acquired land for their new facilities.

These projects were among hundreds of announcements that the Ministry of Long-term Care made in recent years as part of the government's target of adding 30,000 new long-term care beds to the sector by 2028

Post-COVID, the government has repeatedly said it is committed to "fixing" long-term care and reducing wait lists. It's focused on redeveloping old homes to get rid of three- to four-ward rooms, ensuring high-quality care with new beds, improving staffing and enforcement at homes.

But advocates and community members say these delays are frustrating and show that seniors aren't a priority.

Construction, borrowing costs caused delays: MPP 

The 2022 announcement promised that the following four homes would receive upgrades:

  • Banwell Gardens Care Centre: 192 upgraded care beds. Construction was supposed to begin summer 2022.

  • Berkshire Care Centre: 11 new and 181 upgraded beds in a new facility. Construction was expected to begin summer 2023.

  • Chateau Park Long-Term Care Home: 101 new and 59 upgraded beds in a new facility. The home will move from Windsor to Amherstburg. Construction was expected to start fall 2023.

  • Regency Park Long-Term Care Home: replaced by a brand-new building with 88 new and 72 upgraded beds. Construction was supposed to start winter 2023.

The Ministry of Long-Term Care didn't respond to detailed questions from CBC News, but in an interview, Windsor-Tecumseh MPP Andrew Dowie confirmed that the homes have been delayed because of construction costs and the high cost of borrowing money.

He says that in its 2024 budget, the government accounted for these increases and allocated $155.5 million more to help fast-track construction.

The homes are receiving construction subsidies to build the facilities, and this recent announcement means they'll receive even more to meet rising costs.

"Really, the ball is in the home's court, because ultimately they're the ones who will tender the project," he said.

Regency Park Long-Term Care Home in Windsor is one of the four homes expected to see improvements. Construction on a new facility for the home was supposed to start winter 2023. But Riverdale Living which owns the home says it hasn't found a spot of land for it yet.
Regency Park Long-Term Care Home in Windsor is one of the four homes expected to see improvements. Construction on a new facility for the home was supposed to start winter 2023. But Riverdale Living which owns the home says it hasn't found a spot of land for it yet.

Regency Park Long-Term Care Home in Windsor is one of the four homes expected to see improvements. Construction on a new facility for the home was supposed to start winter 2023. But Riverdale Living which owns the home says it hasn't found a spot of land for it yet. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC)

Dowie added that the government is doing everything it can to take away barriers in this process, but that it cannot "control the market in terms of the available workforce to work on these projects or what the tender results are."

People faced with long wait for LTC in Windsor-Essex 

Advocates and community members say these delays are disheartening and unfair for people who need timely care.

According to the most recent data on an Ontario government website, as of Feb. 29, 2024, combined wait lists for all the long-term care homes were more than 4,700 spots long in Windsor-Essex.

One person can sign up for multiple homes when applying, so it's possible that the same person is on a few wait lists for homes in the region.

The website notes that wait times for long-term care homes "vary widely and change frequently."

About a month ago, Cassandra Wilding became the power of attorney for a family friend. She says the lady is 84 years old and has dementia.

Wilding says they recently joined several wait lists for long-term care and were told it could take anywhere from a three to five years, if not longer, to get accepted.

"My family friend basically looked at me ... [and] said, 'I'm going to die waiting to get into this place,'" she said.

There are "ways to be fast tracked into a long-term care facility, but unfortunately that involves either being hospitalized or something catastrophic happening, which we don't want," Wilding said.

Andrew Dowie is the MPP of Windsor-Tecumseh.
Andrew Dowie is the MPP of Windsor-Tecumseh.

Windsor-Tecumseh MPP Andrew Dowie says the government has allocated more funding to get construction of these projects underway. (Dax Melmer/CBC)

To her, it doesn't seem like building more homes or getting more beds is a priority for the government, Wilding said.

"It's not fair ... it's not just my [loved one]," she said.

"I don't know who needs to follow through with their end of the deal, but these people need help."

Michele Campeau, whose mom is being charged $26,000 by a Windsor hospital for refusing to move into Regency Park Long-Term Care Home, says she was outraged when she heard that the care home is supposed to be replaced by an entirely new facility as it currently doesn't meet standards.

"I don't understand how you can justify trying to make me put her in that place, when they know it's not up to standard and then charge me when I agree with them and refuse [to accept the bed]. It's kind of ridiculous in a way," she said.

Campeau has spoken with CBC News multiple times in the last few months as her mom faces a hefty fine related to the province's controversial long-term care law Bill 7.

The bill allows hospitals to charge patients $400 a day if they refuse to move to a long-term care home chosen on their behalf. The government says the bill is essential to free up hospital beds for people who need care.

Cassandra Wilding says she is the power of attorney for a family friend who is waiting to get into long-term care. She says when she heard that it could be years until she gets a spot, she was shocked.
Cassandra Wilding says she is the power of attorney for a family friend who is waiting to get into long-term care. She says when she heard that it could be years until she gets a spot, she was shocked.

Cassandra Wilding says she is the power of attorney for a family friend who is waiting to get into long-term care. She says when she heard that it could be years until she gets a spot, she was shocked. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC)

Campeau says it's unfair for people to be charged money for refusing to move into care homes, especially ones that are slated to be replaced. She wants to see Bill 7 revoked and says her mom won't be paying.

In response to this, Dowie said the policy "would not be necessary if we didn't have that near collapse in the building of long-term care homes prior to the election of the government."

"If we had rebuilt homes, if we had spaces, then there would be really no difficulty in someone finding a long-term care bed that they could have a lot of comfort in."

Unclear when new homes will be ready 

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson from Riverdale Living said that the start dates for Regency Park and Chateau Park long-term care homes will depend on "a number of factors."

With Regency Park, the spokesperson said that they are still working to find land in Windsor that "meets the size and infrastructure needs to build a modern home."

As for Chateau Park, which is relocating to Amherstburg, the company says it was unable to start construction last year due to rising construction costs.

"In both cases, we are actively working with our municipal and provincial partners to move from the pre-development to development phase as soon as possible," reads part of the statement.

"In the meantime, we have made a number of investments and changes to modernize the current homes." It didn't say what these were.

What that means for seniors is: there's no place to go.- Laura Tamblyn Watts, CEO of CanAGE

Riverdale Living is also responsible for a new facility for Franklin Gardens in Leamington and a new long-term care home in Belle River, which will replace Tilbury Manor in Tilbury. The spokesperson said that construction on these homes is underway and they are keeping to schedule — they are expected to be done in two years.

In an emailed statement, Sara Fox, executive director of Banwell Gardens, said that it has acquired the land across the street from where it currently is.

She says they will be doing another call out for bids to do the project later this summer. Following this, she says an extensive review will happen.

And finally, when it comes to Berkshire Care Centre, its executive director Erica Hooker said in an emailed statement that construction and supply costs, and ministry funding programs are all part of the delay.

She also said that finding appropriately zoned land, or spots that can be rezoned, is difficult.

"We continue to operate and provide excellent care and services for the seniors of Windsor in a safe, clean, home-like environment. Along with updating and renovating our existing space as needed," she said.

None of the homes provided a move-in date for their new facilities.

'There's no place to go'

Laura Tamblyn Watts, CEO of senior advocacy organization CanAGE, says that while the current government has put a lot of dollars toward long-term care, they should have anticipated that borrowing costs, land acquisition and inflation would impact these projects.

"What hasn't happened is a streamlining of approvals, which means that money isn't flowing fast enough, with costs rising, that delta between what's allocated and what is needed is constantly getting bigger," she said.

"What that means for seniors is: there's no place to go."