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More beds coming as system tackles 5-year wait lists for long-term care

Posted: April 8, 2021

(March 31, 2021)

By: Kate Bueckert, CBC News

The wait to get into a long-term care home in Waterloo-Wellington can take between months to years for some people. The province recently announced an extra 281 beds for Waterloo region in the coming years. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

A new report says the average wait time for a room in long-term care in Waterloo-Wellington is 1,907 days, or more than five years.

That number is part of a report from the Ontario Health Coalition, the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions, the hospital division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees and the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly (ACE). The groups are calling for a human rights investigation into “systemic ageism” in the province’s health-care system.

The four groups say the province has cut hospital beds and “rationed access” to long-term care beds, which has led to thousands of people on wait lists.

Ontario Minister of Long-Term Care Merrilee Fullerton says the problems in long-term care began long before the Progressive Conservatives took over power in June 2018.

“If you look back over really the the last roughly 15 years, very little building capacity was created,” she said in an interview Tuesday morning on CBC K-W’s The Morning Edition with host Craig Norris.

Before 2018, the wait list had grown to more than 38,000 people due to a “combination of an aging population, people living longer and just the lack of capacity that was created.”

We’ve got about 20,000 spaces in the pipeline.– Merrilee Fullerton, Ontario minister of health and long-term care

Fullerton said the provincial government has looked to expand programs, like the paramedicine program where community paramedics help people who are elderly or live with a chronic illness stay in their home longer by doing non-emergency medical check-ins with them, while expanding capacity at long-term care homes.

“We’ve got about 20,000 spaces in the pipeline,” she said.

She said along with capacity, there’s the need to hire more people.

“We’ve committed to four hours of direct care per resident and that is a historic commitment of our government. So it’s almost a $5-billion commitment over four years. And really to make sure that people get the quality of care that it’s so badly needed.”

Longest wait: 1,907 days

The Waterloo-Wellington Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) reports monthly how many beds are available at long-term care homes in the communities, how many people are on the wait list and how long people wait for a room.

The longest wait times are for basic beds, which are generally the least expensive and may be in three and four bed “ward” rooms in a home. The wait times for semi-private and private rooms are also listed by the LHIN.

Merrilee Fullerton, Ontario’s minister of health and long-term care, shown in a COVID-19 briefing in January, told CBC K-W’s The Morning Edition this week that the problems in long-term care are longstanding. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

The longest wait time in the LHIN, as of the last update on Feb. 28, was at St. Joseph’s Health Centre in Guelph at 1,907 days for a basic room.

Karyn Lumsden, vice-president of home and community care with Waterloo-Wellington LHIN, says numbers are just part of the story, and most people are not waiting five years for a bed.

The wait lists are long, no bones about it.– Karyn Lumsden, Waterloo-Wellington vice-president of homes and community care

“When I look at that, 1,900 days for St. Joe’s for basic beds, that doesn’t mean that everybody waited for 1,900 days to get into St. Joe’s while they were sitting out in the community getting sicker and more at risk,” she said.

The number of days people wait for a bed is listed as the experience of nine out of 10 people, plus there are other factors, Lumsden said. For example, someone who receives a “crisis designation” will go into a home faster than someone who does not need immediate care.

As well, she noted, “people can go to another long-term care home and then wait for a bed in their first choice long-term care home and those days are cumulative,” she said. “They might actually be in long term care waiting for a bed in their first choice.”

Lumsden isn’t trying to sugarcoat the situation, though.

“The wait lists are long, no bones about it,” she said.

COVID’s impact on wait times

Wait times have been impacted during the pandemic because the province has told long-term care homes not to fill the “ward” rooms where there are three or four beds in one room. Instead, currently there is a maximum of two people per room.

Homes that were in outbreak also could not accept new residents, Lumsden said.

Lumsden says as the pandemic progresses and more people are vaccinated, it’s hoped those beds will be opened again, which will have a positive impact on wait times.

As well, more beds are expected to be created in the coming years. Earlier this month, funding for four projects that will see 281 long-term care beds added to Waterloo region was announced by Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Mike Harris. He said some of the work will include renovations to move older facilities away from three- and four-bed ward-style rooms.

Fullerton said the ward-style rooms “were a significant concern and contributed to the spread of COVID-19, which is tragic.”

Vaccines make a difference, says Fullerton

Some long-term care homes were built in the 1950s through to the 1970s, but going forward, she said, they know change is needed.

“We cannot go back to having people, you know, in those four bedrooms to the maximum capacity. So we were really looking at how we redevelop those homes.”

In the short term, though, getting the COVID-19 vaccines to people in homes is making a big difference and will help return life to normal, said Fullerton.

“The cases began to drop as soon as we started to get those shots into the arms.”

She also said it’s important to have services to keep people in their homes longer.

“I would love to see things like more day programs, more respite care. I’ve said this for many, many years and it really needs to be addressed.”

Listen to the full interview with Ontario Minister of Health and Long-Term Care Merrilee Fullerton:

The longest wait time in the LHIN, as of the last update on Feb. 28, was at St. Joseph’s Health Centre in Guelph at 1,907 days for a basic room.

Karyn Lumsden, vice-president of home and community care with Waterloo-Wellington LHIN, says numbers are just part of the story, and most people are not waiting five years for a bed.

The wait lists are long, no bones about it.– Karyn Lumsden, Waterloo-Wellington vice-president of homes and community care

“When I look at that, 1,900 days for St. Joe’s for basic beds, that doesn’t mean that everybody waited for 1,900 days to get into St. Joe’s while they were sitting out in the community getting sicker and more at risk,” she said.

The number of days people wait for a bed is listed as the experience of nine out of 10 people, plus there are other factors, Lumsden said. For example, someone who receives a “crisis designation” will go into a home faster than someone who does not need immediate care.

As well, she noted, “people can go to another long-term care home and then wait for a bed in their first choice long-term care home and those days are cumulative,” she said. “They might actually be in long term care waiting for a bed in their first choice.”

Lumsden isn’t trying to sugarcoat the situation, though.

“The wait lists are long, no bones about it,” she said.

COVID’s impact on wait times

Wait times have been impacted during the pandemic because the province has told long-term care homes not to fill the “ward” rooms where there are three or four beds in one room. Instead, currently there is a maximum of two people per room.

Homes that were in outbreak also could not accept new residents, Lumsden said.

Lumsden says as the pandemic progresses and more people are vaccinated, it’s hoped those beds will be opened again, which will have a positive impact on wait times.

As well, more beds are expected to be created in the coming years. Earlier this month, funding for four projects that will see 281 long-term care beds added to Waterloo region was announced by Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Mike Harris. He said some of the work will include renovations to move older facilities away from three- and four-bed ward-style rooms.

Fullerton said the ward-style rooms “were a significant concern and contributed to the spread of COVID-19, which is tragic.”

Vaccines make a difference, says Fullerton

Some long-term care homes were built in the 1950s through to the 1970s, but going forward, she said, they know change is needed.

“We cannot go back to having people, you know, in those four bedrooms to the maximum capacity. So we were really looking at how we redevelop those homes.”

In the short term, though, getting the COVID-19 vaccines to people in homes is making a big difference and will help return life to normal, said Fullerton.

“The cases began to drop as soon as we started to get those shots into the arms.”

She also said it’s important to have services to keep people in their homes longer.

“I would love to see things like more day programs, more respite care. I’ve said this for many, many years and it really needs to be addressed.”

Longest and shortest wait times

The LHIN’s list was last updated Feb. 28. St. Joseph’s Health Centre in Guelph has 240 beds and the longest wait time. The website shows there are 458 people on the wait list and nine out of 10 people wait 1,907 days for a basic room. For a private room, nine out of 10 people wait 1,113 days.

Other homes with the longest wait times for basic rooms are:

  • Chartwell Westmount in Kitchener with 1,883 days.
  • Elliott Home in Guelph at 1,571 days.
  • The Village of Winston Park in Waterloo at 1,449 days.
  • The Village at University Gates in Waterloo at 1,331 days.
  • Sunnyside Home in Kitchener at 1,258 days.

The shortest wait time is Cambridge Country Manor, which has 79 licensed beds, 51 people on the wait list and nine out of 10 people wait 42 days for a basic room. For a semi-private, the wait is 49 days and the wait for a private room is 62 days.

Other homes with the shortest wait times include:

  • Caressant Care in Fergus with 54 days.
  • Caressant Care in Harriston with 62 days.
  • Caressant Care in Arthur with 69 days.
  • Forest Heights Revera in Kitchener with 88 days.

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