Two LTC homes blame sprinkler system requirement for shut down

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Canadian Press

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.”

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.”

Mount Nemo Christian Nursing Home in a rural area of Burlington 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.

“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.”

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.

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