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Advocates call for investigation into ageism in provincial health system

Posted: March 27, 2021

(March 26, 2021)

By: Ian Macalpine, Kingston Whig-Standard (Print Edition)

The Ontario Health Coalition, the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions, the hospital division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees and the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly are calling on the Ontario Human Rights Commission for a probe into what the groups call “systemic ageism in Ontario’s health system.”

The three groups held a virtual news conference on Thursday morning to explain their concerns.

They say a public inquiry is necessary to look into human rights discrimination against the elderly in their access to, and levels of care in, hospitals and long-term care following the death of nearly 4,000 nursing home residents from COVID-19 in Ontario in the past year.

The groups said that with the Ontario population growing by 4.5 million over the past three decades, and with many of those residents moving into the elderly cohort, various provincial governments have been doing the opposite, with the most hospital downsizing in Canada, cutting 20,000 hospital beds and creating a wait-list of more than 38,000 long-term care beds for mostly elderly Ontarians.

On average in Kingston, a news release stated, 54 long-term care beds become available each month. Wait times to get into long-term care range up to 927 days (2.5 years). The local health network does not report the number of people on the wait-list for a bed, the release said.

“Kingston Health Sciences Centre routinely runs at over 100 per cent capacity. Patients are crowded into emergency rooms, creating enormous pressure for the elderly to be transferred out to wherever they can find a space, regardless of the safety and appropriateness of their care,” the news release said.

The groups also allege that across Ontario, only a small percentage of long-term care residents with COVID-19 were hospitalized prior to their deaths. A recent study found that only 22.4 per cent of long-term care residents who died with COVID-19 were hospitalized. This compares to 81.4 per cent of people who lived in the community, the release said.

“The culture of hospital diversion for long-term care residents carried through the first wave and second wave. The older the resident, the lower the rate of hospitalization,” the OHC’s Natalie Mehra said in a statement.

The group also alleges that across the province, more than 2,200 mostly elderly people are classified as alternate level of care patients and are sometimes offloaded from hospitals into makeshift sites. “These patients who may have multiple complex chronic medical conditions are moved to non-hospital sites and in some cases hotels, where staffing levels and care are lower,” the release said.

“COVID-19 has shone a harsh light on Ontario health care’s systemic ageism in the treatment of the elderly,” Jane Meadus of ACE said. “Four-bed ward rooms, understaffing, lack of PPE, failure to hospitalize residents. But the policy choices that got us here are decades old and must stop,” “The elderly are often infantilized and treated as though their right to care is lesser than others,” OCHU president Michael Hurley said in the news release.

“We believe the truth is that as the Ontario population grew and aged, health-care costs were restrained primarily by denying health care to the elderly,” Hurley said in his presentation.

He also said there were 4,000 deaths of patients with COVID-19 in long-term care homes who were not transferred to hospitals, thus allowing the virus to spread through the facilities.

“That was to protect (intensive care unit) capacity; that was to protect hospital beds. People and decision-makers in Ontario were afraid that our ICUs would be overwhelmed as they were in New York and Italy. In fact, none of that ever happened in Ontario,” Hurley said.

“We reject this discrimination in the provision of health-care services based on age. It shortens the life span of many beloved, productive and happy members of Ontario society.”

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