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Ontario Health Coalition concerned for overworked staff at long-term care facilities

Posted: April 28, 2017

(October 25, 2016)

By: Ellwood Shreve, Chatham Daily News

The Ontario Health Coalition is concerned already overworked staff at long-term care homes could come under greater scrutiny in light of a Woodstock woman being charged with eight counts of first-degree murder in connection with the death of elderly residents at facilities in Woodstock and London.

Natalie Mehra, OHC executive director, said the circumstances surrounding the charges against Elizabeth Tracey Mae Wettlaufer, 49, are incredibly rare and she doesn’t want to sensationalize the situation.

Wettlaufer, who worked as a nurse is accused by police of administering an unspecified drug, that resulted in the death of eight elderly residents between August 2007 and August 2014.

Noting families often feel guilt at having to put loved ones in a long-term care home, and workers face a constant struggle of trying to provide care while under-staffed, Mehra said the circumstances surrounding these murder charges will likely raise stress levels for other families and increase the scrutiny of staff when someone dies, especially if a family finds it hard to accept.

“But, the truth is – and everyone knows it – 99.999 per cent of nurses are angels . . .they’re just wonderful people and they’re in it because they like caring for people,” she said.

Mehra noted there are systemic issues that should be looked at.

“We don’t know all the circumstances around this (incident), but there is no question it would be good if it shed more light on the fact that these homes are severely under-staffed.”

Port Lambton resident Shirley Roebuck, with the Chatham-Kent Health Coalition, said, “we don’t believe that most long-term care homes in the province have proper staffing.”

Statistically, seniors in many facilities are not receiving many hours of care per day, she said, adding the OHC believes it should be at least four hours.

“What were advocating for is increased hours of care per day, which would . . . make many more people aware of the client’s condition, the client’s mental status (and) his or her emotional status,” Roebuck said.

She added, “the ability to do harm would be lessened dramatically.”

Mehra said Ontario, which has the highest population in Canada, also has the most long-term care beds at more than 75,000. However, she noted on a per-capita basis, Ontario has the fewest beds.

Mehra said since Ontario has cut so many hospital beds, patients who were considered in need of chronic care while in hospital have been off-loaded to long-term care homes where there often isn’t adequate staffing levels.

“These are very vulnerable people, they’re elderly and they have multiple complex conditions, generally, and they can’t live without assistance,” she said.

Mehra said the lack of staff is the top complaint among family groups that advocate for people in long-term care homes, resident advocacy groups, seniors organizations and employee groups.

While death is expected to occur in these facilities, Mehra believes it is legitimate to ask what could have been done to see a pattern or to prevent this from happening.

“I think understaffing is one piece of it.”

Mehra also noted long-term care homes are required to report serious incidents to the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. She added it would be interesting to know if any of the deaths being investigated by police were flagged and reported to the ministry.

Ironically, the OHC is holding a conference on Friday in Toronto, titled: Reforming Long-Term Care in the Public Interest. Details are available at www.ontariohealthcoalition.ca.

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