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Ontario Health coalition visits St. Thomas with warning about the state of nursing homes in the province

Posted: June 22, 2016

(June 22, 2016)

By: Jennifer Bieman, St. Thomas Times-Journal

The Ontario Health Coalition made a stop in St. Thomas Tuesday, bringing a big chair and a big message.

Elgin Mall played host to a three-metre tall rocking chair, the symbol of the health care advocacy group’s third annual campaign to improve long-term care. The Railway City was the 67th stop in the big chair’s Ontario road trip to raise awareness about the state of nursing homes in the province.

“The needs in the long-term care homes are greater than ever,” said Peter Boyle, Ontario Health Coalition Rock-in for Improved Care tour lead.

“The seniors and elders that are in the long-term care homes right now aren’t getting the care they need or require, and it’s not the fault of the workers … the government has not instituted any regulations for standard hours of care.”

The coalition is lobbying for legislation that would require staff to devote a minimum of four hours of hands-on care to each resident every day. At each stop along the way, organizers invite passersby to sign a letter in support the policy. Boyle is expecting the coalition will collect 20,000 letters this summer alone, a haul that matches the number of people waiting for long-term care beds in Ontario.

The Ontario Health Care coalition is also concerned about wait lists for long-term care facilities and other access to care issues. Boyle said it’s not uncommon for seniors seeking nursing home spots to take the first one available, even if it’s outside their community. He said the distance can make family visits difficult and foster feelings of loneliness and isolation for elderly patients.

In public discussions about health care policy and priorities, Boyle said long-term care is frequently overlooked. Though the giant rocking chair only stayed in Railway City for a short time, Boyle is hoping the coalition’s message will remain.

“It’s a real disservice to our elders … We’re building every year. There’s more people knowing about it. They’re writing their MPPs, emailing their MPPs, putting pressure on the government,” he said.

The big rocking chair had an entourage to match, including Tom Carrothers, chairman of the Family Council Advocacy Committee. Many long-term care facilities have family councils that give residents and their loved ones a chance to bring concerns and recommendations to administration. After getting involved in family councils near his home in Burlington, Carrothers branched out and has spent the last six years with the Ontario advocacy group.

“We’re trying to advocate province-wide to bring changes … We want MPPs to stand up and say ‘It’s not right, we need more care time and we need it in the legislation,’” he said.

Carrothers knows first-hand that long-term care needs go beyond basic medical necessities. Residents need help with daily tasks like getting dressed, feeding themselves and moving around – activities visiting family members often take on themselves.

“Thousands of our members right now are helping in long-term care facilities because they see the conditions the employees have to work under, which means not enough care time for our loved ones and our friends that are there,” he said.

Carrothers, who has seen his own mother, mother-in-law and plenty of friends enter long-term care, said family and visitors helping with daily tasks is more of a norm than an exception.

“We were lucky because we could go in and we could help,” said Carrothers of his own experience with relatives in long-term care, adding many others like him live too far away to visit their own family members frequently.

“But we’re not really trained how to properly feed somebody … There could be 28 people in a dining room, and at least half need help feeding themselves, but there’s only two trained people.”

Carrothers said many people find talking about long-term care depressing, not unlike discussing wills and end-of-life decision-making. It’s an attitude he said needs to change in order to turn the tide in the long-term care sector.

“We just need the rest of the community to be aware of the needs of long-term care,” he said.

“I always say when my time comes, I want to be able to get into long-term care and I want to know that I’ll be taken care of, that I’ll have a chance to meet new people and have a good last phase of my life. That’s all I’ll want.”

Ontario Health Coalition
Key Goals

1. Pass legislation requiring a minimum standard of four hours of hands-on care per day per resident.
2. Improve access to care and reduce wait times.

Ontario Long-Term Care
By the numbers…

5 – Average months waiting for a bed in a long-term care facility
20,000 – Estimated number of people on wait list for beds in Ontario
80,000 – Estimated number of long-term care beds in Ontario
60+ – Percentage of long-term care residents with some form of dementia
Source: Ontario Health Coalition

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