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Call for human rights inquiry into health-care ‘discrimination’ of elderly

Posted: March 17, 2021

(March 16, 2021)

By: Julie Ireton, CBC News

The Advocacy Centre for the Elderly, the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions and the Ontario Health Coalition say the province’s policy of ‘de-hospitalizing; the health-care system and the underfunding of long-term care have had a ‘disproportionately negative effect’ on older people. (Shaun Best/Reuters)

Three groups have teamed to call on the Ontario Human Rights Commission to investigate the “systemic discrimination” of elderly people seeking health care.

The Advocacy Centre for the Elderly, the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions and the Ontario Health Coalition are holding a news conference at 11 a.m. ET Tuesday to ask for an inquiry.

“The things that are acceptable for the elderly, the treatment of the elderly, would never be accepted in the rest of the population, and that has to change,” said Jane Meadus, a lawyer with the advocacy centre.

The groups say the province’s policy of “de-hospitalizing” the health-care system and the underfunding of long-term care have had a “disproportionately negative effect” on Ontario’s older population.

Jane Meadus, a lawyer with the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly, says COVID-19 has magnified problems in Ontario’s health-care system that discriminate against the elderly. (David Common/CBC)

The Ontario government-appointed Long-term Care COVID-19 Commission is already investigating why nursing homes have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus over the past year.

As of Monday, there have been 3,750 deaths of long-term care residents in the province due to COVID-19.

COVID has highlighted problems

“These issues all pre-exist COVID,” said Meadus. “All COVID has done really with the elderly is just magnify the problems in our health-care system that already existed.”

A lawyer for the three groups said they are sending a letter to the human rights commission requesting the inquiry, but nothing has yet been filed formally. There’s no set time on when the commission has to respond to the request, the lawyer said.

Meadus said the groups want the commission to reach beyond the impacts of the current pandemic.

“It’s actually looking at some very different issues,” said Meadus.

“We’re really talking about issues about why are people ending up in long-term care homes? Why are they ending up in retirement homes when they should be in long-term care? Why do we have 38,000 people on waiting lists? Those kinds of issues which are far beyond the scope of this commission.”

The refusal to transfer critically ill, long-term care residents to hospitals during the pandemic has highlighted the problem of ageism and discrimination, said Michael Hurley, president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions, which represents health-care workers.

Michael Hurley, president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions, says the refusal to transfer critically ill, long-term care residents to hospitals during the pandemic has highlighted the problem of ageism and discrimination. (Matt Prokopchuk / CBC)

“We are really deeply disturbed about this situation, and only see it getting worse as the demographics present Ontario with a larger and larger group of elderly people for whom it has less and less capacity to accept,” said Hurley.  “They are routinely clearing out people who are characterized as ‘bed blockers’ or ‘alternate level of care patients’ as part of an attempt to minimize public sympathy for their situation.”

This is exactly the kind of investigation the human rights commission should take on, according to Anne Levesque, a law professor at the University of Ottawa.

Anne Levesque, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, says an investigation into the treatment of elderly people would be within the mandate of the Ontario Human Rights Commission. 0:50

“This would be the first time that it actually does an inquiry into ageism in our health policies. So I think it’s well needed in light of the pandemic,” said Levesque. “What are the government’s legal obligations toward our aging population, and how can we prevent ageism from influencing government policy and how we treat our seniors?”

Levesque noted this inquiry request is similar to previous public inquiries launched by the Ontario commission, including one into racial profiling and discrimination of a Black person by the Toronto Police Service. 

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