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Human rights probe sought into long-term care

Posted: March 28, 2021

(March 27, 2021)

By: Ronald Zajac, Brockville Recorder & Times (Print Edition)

A coalition of groups is calling for a human rights inquiry into what they call Ontario’s systematic discrimination against the elderly in access to health care.

At a virtual media event earlier this week, the Ontario Health Coalition (OHC), the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU) (the hospital division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)) and the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly (ACE) said the COVID-19 pandemic has shone a stark light on what they consider systemic ageism in the health-care sector.

“The pleas for help from the elderly can no longer fall on deaf ears,” Natalie Mehra, executive director of the OHC, which describes itself as a health-care watchdog, told the virtual media conference on Wednesday.

She said long-term care is not only beset by sub-standard conditions, but those who need that care are finding it rationed.

In Brockville, Smiths Falls and the area previously covered by the South East Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) wait times for long-term care range up to 1,425 days, or 3.9 years, added Mehra.

Advocates, including Michael Hurley, the OCHU/CUPE president, are urging area residents to support the efforts to have the Ontario Human Rights Commission conduct a probe into what are being called “years of systemic ageism” that contributed to COVID-19 deaths in long-term care facilities.

The groups say COVID-19 – and the nearly 4,000 long-term care residents in Ontario who have died of the disease – must be a turning point.

Mehra told the virtual event the problem of sub-standard care over many years in long-term care has been exacerbated during the pandemic, leading to “the worst mass-casualty event in our LTC history.”

Jane Meadus, staff lawyer and institutional advocate for the ACE, and lawyer Adriel Weaver, with Goldblatt Partners, also spoke during the conference.

Meadus described horrific instances of neglect in some longterm care homes, with residents often left in soiled diapers, not turned, nor taken to the washroom when needed, as staffing levels are too low to address the crisis.

“If this was a daycare and these were children these facilities would be shut down in a heartbeat, yet for seniors there’s little done to ensure positive change,” she added.

The groups also denounced “de-hospitalization,” in which elderly people, deemed alternate level of care (ALC) patients, are “often derisively referred to as bed blockers” and “offloaded from hospitals into makeshift sites.”

In an interview Friday, Mehra said that, across Ontario, only 22.4 per cent of LTC residents who died with COVID-19 were hospitalized, compared to 81.4 per cent of people who lived in the community.

Meanwhile, said Mehra, poor conditions remain in many longterm care facilities due to lack of resources. She said horror stories from families of long-term care home residents include people going six weeks without a bath.

“I think it violates the morals of everyone in our society,” said Mehra.

“You cannot treat human beings that way.”

In a statement emailed to The Recorder and Times earlier this week, Krystle Caputo, Ontario Long-Term Care Minister Merrilee Fullerton’s press secretary, said the pandemic “has exposed the systemic issues facing longterm care after decades of neglect and underfunding by successive governments.”

“The work to modernize longterm care is underway with immediate staffing investments culminating in $1.9 billion annually to meet our nation-leading four hours, on average, of daily direct resident care, and $2.6 billion invested to create modern and safe long-term care spaces,” she added.

Mehra, however, said the first improvement of 15 minutes of care will not happen until April 2022, while the four-hour standard is not expected to be reached until 2024 or 2025.

The province needs to allocate more resources into the long-term care sector, said Mehra, adding better conditions in LTC homes should be part of a “post-pandemic reconstruction plan.”

She is hopeful the human rights commission will take up the case, leading to speedier investment.

While the province is moving in the right direction with long-term care, said Mehra, “we just need to move them further faster.”

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