Ontario seniors stuck inside long-term care want to be let out
Posted: April 8, 2021
(March 31, 2021)
By: Tina Yazdani
Though more than 90 per cent of Ontario long-term care residents have been vaccinated and cases inside homes have dropped to near-zero, most living in care are still being forced to stay inside – and they are demanding to be let out.
Advocates and residents say the continued restrictions amount to elder abuse and a violation of their human rights.
“No one has COVID-19 in this building, and yet we cannot leave our room. So, what does it take?” said Chuck, a resident at Southlake Long-term Care Village in Newmarket.
Many Ontario long-term care residents have been stuck inside since the pandemic began, more than a year ago. They say the restrictions no longer make sense.
“It is not enough just being alive. We need better quality of life,” said Alfred Borg, a long-term care resident in Newmarket.
Michelle Morriseau’s mother is in a long-term care facility in Thunder Bay. She says her mother is more alert when she’s outdoors.
“Why can’t I take my mom for a half an hour walk? Just to get her outside? Where’s her quality of life?” she asks. “How can you take that away from an elder – someone who has lived their life, they’ve contributed, and this is what they get?
At a press conference today, advocates from Voices of Long-Term Care and the Ontario Health Coalition joined doctors and residents to call on the Ford government to require long-term care homes to allow residents outside, and to forbid them from blocking their mobility rights.
“They’re not asking to go to malls and restaurants like all the rest of us are allowed to do now,” says Sandra Caleta, spokesperson for Voices of Long-term Care. “They simply want to go outside, get fresh air, feel the sunshine on their faces.”
The groups have been asking the Ontario government to direct long-term care homes to lift restrictive policies since the beginning of March, when both case numbers and deaths dropped dramatically in the homes thanks to vaccines.
There have been zero resident deaths due to COVID-19 since March 18, and there are currently only nine active resident cases, Ontario government figures show.
“People have been vaccinated,” says Dr. Amit Arya, a palliative care physician and board member of the Ontario Health Coalition. “What was the point if they couldn’t start to enjoy life again?”
While inside the homes, a new report from the Canadian Institute for Health Information found residents received less medical care during the first wave of the pandemic when compared to the previous year. The number of residents who received a visit from a physician was down 16 per cent, while there was also a slight increase in the prescription of anti-psychotic drugs to residents.
The study also found residents who had no contact with friends or family were 36 per cent more likely to be assessed with depression.
Long-term care resident Chuck says government officials don’t understand the conditions they are confining seniors to.
“I have challenged someone from the Ministry of Health to live in one of our rooms for a week,” he says, “to subject themselves to their rules – and then see what they would say.”
When CityNews asked the Ministry of Long-term Care about the issue, a spokesperson for Minister Merrilee Fullerton emailed the same statement the office sent us nine days ago, when we asked for an update on the rules.
After initially sending CityNews the same statement as nine days ago, the Ministry of Long-term Care eventually said the Minister has engaged with public health officials to “discuss the best path forward for residents while balancing their needs and safety.
A spokesperson for the Minister of Long-term Care said they are looking at options and will have more to say in the coming days.
“We have seen incidents in jurisdictions were residents who have been vaccinated contract COVID-19. Variants of concern poses a real threat to long-term care despite nearly every resident being fully immunized,” read the statement. “We continue to vaccinate staff, essential care givers, and other vulnerable groups and are seeing the positive effects.”
When asked today why the rules surrounding long-term care homes have not been relaxed, Premier Doug Ford said, “We have to be super cautious.”
The Ontario New Democrats’ critic for community and social services says the government’s response to seniors’ pleas has been “shameful and dismissive.”
“This government chooses to come forward with excuses,” says MPP Lisa Gretzky.
Dr. Arya says the lack of action illustrates the power imbalance between the government and care home operators, and the residents who live under their roofs.
“The operators and governments make decisions that are contrary to the evidence, contrary to logic, and contrary to scientific expertise as well,” he says.