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Nursing home system ‘in crisis’ “North Bay Nugget, January 21, 2019”

Posted: January 21, 2019

PJ Wilson 
Peggy Smith, left, Blanche-Helene Tremblay and Ann McIntosh deliver the Ontario Health Coalition report Situation Critical on issues in the long-term care sector, Monday, in North Bay. PJ Wilson/The Nugget

Ontario’s long-term care system is in crisis and failing those who rely on it.

That was the message delivered Monday with the release of Situation Critical, a report prepared by the Ontario Health Coalition that outlines the shortcomings of the current system.

“It is shocking. Unacceptable,” how residents of long-term care facilities are cared for,” Ann McIntyre, of the OHC, said in a presentation in North Bay. “This situation can no longer be ignored.”

McIntyre pointed to short-staffing, more need and chronic underfunding by the province as the major issues that have combined to weaken the system.

McIntyre said short-staffing is so common “we see it daily on almost every shift,” with increasing violence against caregivers and other residents in long-term care facilities.

Ontario’s long-term care facilities now have about 80,000 residents. There are another 33,000 on wait lists. In the North Bay area, there are about 700 people on wait lists for long-term care beds.

The province now ranks second last in Canada for the number of long-term beds, while the number of beds has been cut. Funding for long-term care beds is approximately one-third what is received for chronic or complex care beds in hospitals.

“Levels of care are now too low to meet basic needs” of residents, McIntyre said.

Over the last five years, she said, there have been 27 homicides in Ontario long-term care facilities, seven in the last year alone, which is, per capita, eight times higher than the national homicide rate.

The provincial government has promised to increase the number of long-term beds by 30,000 over the next decade, with 15,000 to be added over the next five years.

The report notes that “planning, care levels, regulation and resourcing of long-term care have not kept pace with population aging and patient offloading.”

The report says long-term care homes in Ontario “have extraordinary levels of occupancy and acuity. Access to care is gravely inadequate. Waitlists are longer than the entire population of a medium-sized town in Ontario.”

Blanche-Helen Tremblay first became involved with long-term care seven years ago, when both her parents were admitted to homes.

“I was lucky,” Tremblay says. “There was almost no wait time” for them to be admitted.

But what she found, she said, is that staffing is so inadequate that family members or personal support workers hired by the families are needed to provide much of a family member’s care.

It was not unusual, she said, for three staff members to be responsible for 72 or more residents overnight, or for two staff members to help 18 residents with things like toileting or getting up and dressed in the morning.

In most cases, Peggy Smith, a former personal support worker said, the staff can only devote 10 minutes or less to each resident to get them out of bed, get them dressed, help them brush their teeth.

“I can’t do all that in 10 minutes,” she said.

Only a small percentage – perhaps 15 per cent of residents, she said – have family members visiting daily to help their family members get through the day.

The majority, Tremblay said, “depend entirely on staff for all their needs – physical, social or mental.”

On top of that, she said, between 75 and 80 per cent of long-term care facilities suffer to some degree from dementia.

“This needs to be fixed right away, not in 10 years,” she said.

Smith has seen the situation from two sides, both as a family member and as a personal support worker for more than a quarter of a century.

Staffing levels have been cut as the needs of the residents has been growing, she said, with residents “in frailer condition and with more complex needs than ever before.”

The fault, they said, is not with the workers or administration in long-term care facilities who “do their very best” to ensure residents receive adequate care.

Monday’s release was one of 30 being held across the province between now and Feb. 5 to draw attention to the issue.