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Advocates Call for Landmark Ontario Human Rights Commission Inquiry into Discrimination and Denial of Needed Health Care for the Elderly

Posted: March 17, 2021

(March 16, 2021)

By: Financial Post

TORONTO — Ontario’s Human Rights Commission today is being urged to undertake what could be a landmark systemic public inquiry into age discrimination in the provision of health care in the province. In their letter (http://bit.ly/OHRC-letter-210316) to the Commission, the Ontario Health Coalition (OHC), the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and the Advocacy Centre for Elderly (ACE) outline the long-standing policies of ‘de-hospitalization’ and rationing of access to care and woefully inadequate care levels in long-term care that disproportionately affect the elderly. COVID-19 has made the effects of these policies starkly evident.

Thousands of elderly patients have been subject to transfers out of hospital often without due regard to their right to consent and care needs. Long-term care residents have been left with horrifically inadequate care and nearly 4,000 long-term care residents – many of whom were not transferred to hospital for care despite being acutely ill — have died. However, the problem of age discrimination in health care predates the current crisis and will persist long after it has passed unless it is addressed on a system-wide basis.

Section 31 of the Human Rights Code affords the Commission the power to conduct an inquiry for the purpose of carrying out its functions if it believes it is in the public interest to do so. The Commission’s functions include identifying and promoting the elimination of discriminatory practices. The Commission has recently convened inquiries to address racial profiling and racial discrimination of Black persons by the Toronto Police Service and human rights issues affecting students with reading disabilities. The OHC, OCHU and ACE are calling on the Commission to use its powers, resources and expertise to similarly address age discrimination in health care.

Ontario has cut 20,000 hospital beds in the last 30 years. It now has the fewest beds per capita of any province in Canada. During this same period, Ontario’s population grew by 4 million people and aged – with a large increase in those over age 65. Ontario’s long-term care capacity is 2nd lowest in Canada and waiting lists are interminable. It has become normalized to treat older Ontarians in hospital alternate level of care (ALC) beds as “bed blockers”, although studies show that a significant percentage actually require ongoing hospitalization.

How successive provincial government governments managed health care demands, coupled with a dramatic reduction in capacity – the OHC, CUPE’s Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU/CUPE), and ACE – charge, was by denying essential care to the elderly, something the groups see as unethical, discriminatory and wrong.

Provincial health policy choices have resulted in the wait lists for long-term care homes exceeding 38,000 people and wait times ranging up to 3 – 5 years in most regions with the longest more than 8 years. In Toronto alone provincial health policy choices have resulted in chronically overcrowded hospitals across the city, offloading of patients to retirement homes and transitional care facilities; and long-term care wait lists that range up to 6.2 years (2,260 days).

The OHC CUPE and ACE are also calling on the Ontario government to immediately correct the legacies of discriminatory policies in health care, of which it is by no means the sole author.

Specifically, they ask the provincial government to:

1. Commit that everyone will have access to the hospital and long-term care or they require, free from discrimination based on age

2. Prohibit the transfer of Alternate Level of Care patients who are awaiting hospital care to non-hospital facilities.

3. Ensure that Alternate Level of Care patients who are awaiting placement in a long-term care home to facilities are not coerced to go to facilities that are not long-term care homes.

4. Restore the capacity needed to meet the demographic health care challenges we face in the short term by:

– Restoring hospital capacity by re-opening and staffing closed beds
– Building 50,000 public, not-for-profit long-term care beds
– Hiring 34,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) long-term care staff (including RN, RPN, PSWs) fast tracking that hiring wherever possible

5. Provide emergency aid and funding to public hospitals.

The OHC, CUPE and ACE are also calling on the federal government to increase its share of health care funding to support these vital services.

Quotes:

Successive Ontario governments’ policy choices have resulted in the most radical hospital downsizing in Canada and woefully inadequate long-term care. The pandemic has laid bare for all to see the human suffering that is the consequence of these policy choices. After years of advocating for urgently needed changes that have not happened, we are requesting an inquiry into the violation of fundamental human rights of the elderly. We demand our provincial government take seriously the suffering of the elderly and take action to provide safety, dignity and care.Natalie Mehra, Director, Ontario Health Coalition (OHC)

“As the Ontario population has grown and aged, health care costs are restrained by denying essential health care services to the elderly. At no time has this been more starkly apparent than during the pandemic, when thousands of critically ill residents were not transferred to hospitals and left to die in long-term care. But the ugly truth is that every day the elderly are turned away, pushed out or deprived of access to health care because it is being rationed. We deplore this discrimination in the provision of health care services on the basis of age and demand that the government act to bring it to an end.” Michael Hurley, President Ontario Council of Hospital (OCHU/CUPE)

“Ontario’s seniors have borne the brunt of Ontario’s lack of health care planning, by denying seniors care and services based solely on their age. Seniors who require long-term care admission are systematically lied to when it comes to their choices, forced into for-profit and unregulated facilities, when they are not only legally entitled to, but very much require, publicly funded hospital or long-term care. COVID-19 has simply drawn open the curtain on the age discrimination that exists in our healthcare system. We demand that this stop now.” Jane E. Meadus, Advocacy Centre for the Elderly (ACE)

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