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LTC waiting lists raise questions about where Hamilton hospital patients will be sent

Posted: September 21, 2022

(September 20, 2022)

By: Joanna Frketich, Hamilton Spectator

April wait-list data — the most recent available — published online by Hamilton and Community Care Support Services showed St. Joseph’s Villa had the most available beds, averaging 14 a month, but it still would take nearly a year and a half to get through its wait list of 245 people.

A controversial bill requiring hospitals to send seniors to long-term-care homes as far as 70 kilometres away in southern Ontario comes at a time when many Hamilton facilities have long waiting lists.

Every Hamilton long-term care home had a wait list as of April 30 — the most recent date for which data is available.

More than half of them had a waiting list so long it surpassed the number of beds in the home.

The largest list was at the Village of Wentworth Heights, where 539 people were waiting for a spot in the 120-bed home. That was closely followed by St. Peter’s Residence at Chedoke, with 536 on the wait list for the 210-bed home.

The situation was similar in Burlington, Haldimand, Norfolk, Brant and Niagara. In fact, a home in Niagara that hadn’t even opened yet had 328 people on the waiting list for its 160 beds.

“There are very few long-term care beds actually available,” said Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition. “There are about 38,000 people on the wait list for long-term care across Ontario.”

In addition, long-term care homes face the same unprecedented staffing shortages as hospitals.

“People are being sent from one area in crisis … to other sectors of health care that also cannot provide for these patients,” said Mehra.

The wait-list data published online by Hamilton and Community Care Support Services shows on average just 106 beds become available each month between all of Hamilton’s 27 long-term care homes.

Idlewyld Manor averaged seven available beds a month for a wait list of 486, while Regina Gardens averaged four open beds monthly for a wait list of 369.

St. Joseph’s Villa had the most available beds, averaging 14 a month, but it still would take nearly a year and a half to get through its wait list of 245 people.

Even homes with a small list like Hamilton Continuing Care averaged one open bed a month for 34 people waiting.

The lack of available beds raises questions about what will happen when hospitals start sending seniors to long-term care homes they did not choose as Bill 7, the More Beds, Better Care Act, takes effect Sept. 21. Hamilton residents could potentially be sent as far away as Toronto, Waterloo, Niagara Falls, Simcoe or Woodstock. Those who refuse can be charged $400 a day starting Nov. 20.

“Once you get into this home that you’re forced into, you are not likely to be able to ever move,” said Jane Meadus, lawyer for the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly (ACE). “I think it’s going to end up with people dying in the community or in long-term care homes that they don’t want to be in.”

One Burlington family was so scared of their 93-year-old mother ending up far away that they agreed to have her discharged from hospital to live in North York with her 68-year- old daughter, who has a sick husband and is helping to care for her young grandchildren.

The mom is worried about what toll the extra burden will take on her daughter, said Sherry Hames, another daughter.

Trying to get her mom, Bong Lim Kim, back to Burlington, Hames looked into retirement homes, but the cost was $7,000 to $10,000 a month with the care she needed. Hames was willing to pay that price if her mom could get into long-term care within two months, but no one could provide a time frame despite being on 16 waiting lists.

“This is a crisis case,” said Hames. “I’m really devastated.”

She can’t understand legislation that isolates seniors at the end of their lives. Her mom lived in Burlington for more than 40 years, so being in the community means visits from family, friends and members of the Hamilton Korean United Church. While Kim is too frail to look after herself, her mind is sharp and she craves the company of those she loves.

“I was worried about her being sent to Scarborough,” said Hames, adding that her mom also faces language barriers. “It’s too far. No one could visit her.”

Both ACE and the Ontario Health Coalition warn the bill also allows patients to be forced into home care, transitional beds in retirement homes or other community settings. In addition, patients could be charged for transport to the homes that are up to 150 kilometres away in the north.

“We are going to fight this every possible way we can,” said Mehra, adding the bill overrides fundamental rights.

Area hospitals didn’t provide answers on what they think of the bill that aims to free up their beds. Hamilton Health Sciences alone had 221 patients stuck in its hospitals as of Sept. 16 and about one-third of them were waiting for long-term care.

“At our hospital, one in six beds is occupied by a patient waiting for an alternate level of care (ALC) and we support efforts being made to find strategies to address this issue,” St. Joseph’s Healthcare said in a statement. “It is important that this legislation be implemented in a respectful way that aligns with our values.”

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