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Call for human rights inquiry on discrimination for elderly population reaches Windsor

Posted: March 25, 2021

(March 24, 2021)

By: CBC News Staff, CBC News

Health-care advocates and unions are calling for an Ontario Human Rights Commission inquiry into what it calls systemic discrimination against elderly patients in hospital and long-term care homes across the province.

One of those who have witnessed that discrimination first-hand in Windsor-Essex is Katrina Simonato.

Her mother lives in a Windsor long-term care home and Simonato says, based on that experience, she agrees that elderly patients across the province face systemic discrimination as her mom hasn’t received adequate care.

Simonato’s mom has dementia and lives in The Village at St. Clair, a home that was devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic with 63 total resident deaths resulting from the disease. Her mom fell sick with the disease but has now recovered and been fully vaccinated.

“You’d be surprised by how much discrimination is out there,” she said, adding that her and her sisters had to constantly advocate for their mom’s health during the pandemic.

The Ontario Health Coalition, the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions — part of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) — and the Advocacy Centre for Elderly have said that packed hospitals are discharging elderly patients who still need care, and that seniors in long-term care homes have struggled to get hospital treatment even after contracting COVID-19.

The groups have held news conferences across the province in recent weeks urging communities to back their request for a human rights inquiry and were in Windsor Wednesday.

“There is responsibility to be taken at the individual facility level, no question. But there’s also a systemic ageism in our health care system that treats the elderly as though their lives are not meaningful or not as meaningful, and as though their right to care is lesser than other people. And it must be challenged, particularly in the face of the horrors that we’ve seen in the last year,” said Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition.

Of the 401 deaths in Windsor-Essex, Mehra said that 174 of the deaths were in long-term care homes. Based on provincial data, 96 per cent of the total deaths were people aged 60 and older

The organizers cited a University of Toronto study which found that 22.4 per cent of long-term care home residents who died from COVID-19 in Ontario were transferred to hospitals before they died. Meanwhile, for those living in the community, admission rate was 81.4 per cent.

Mehra said that Windsor was one of the only exceptions in that the region set up a field hospital to transport long-term care patients out of their facilities and into a designated area for care.

She said this should have “been a model for the entire province” and should have been a space that the region used in the second wave.

Ontario Human Rights Commission looking into inquiry request

The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) told CBC News in an email Wednesday, that it has received a request from the coalition and is in the process of looking it over, specifically in the context of the investigation being carried out by the independent Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission.

Meanwhile, press secretary Krystle Caputo for the minister of long-term care said in an email that the ministry agrees that COVID-19 has revealed “systemic issues” that it said resulted from decades of neglect and underfunding from previous governments.

She said they are working to improve long-term care by investing $4.5 billion in staff and to create “modern and safe” spaces.

“We were the first government in North America to establish an independent commission – to provide a timely, transparent and non-partisan investigation into the pandemic in long-term care homes, and to receive advice on better protecting long-term care home residents,” the statement reads.

“Our government is fixing a broken system and making long-term care a better place for residents to live, and a better place for staff to work.”

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