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‘Terrible inadequacy of care’ needs human rights inquiry

Posted: March 27, 2021

(March 26, 2021)

By: Todd Hambleton, Cornwall Standard-Freeholder (Print Edition)

Representatives of several groups say the elderly in Cornwall and eastern Ontario, and all across the province, are having their human rights violated by being denied access to essential health care.

Advocates including Michael Hurley, CUPE’s Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU/CUPE) president, are urging Cornwall and area residents to support the efforts to have the Ontario Human Rights Commission conduct a ground-breaking probe into what are being called “years of systemic ageism” that contributed to COVID-19 deaths in long-term care facilities.

“We reject this discrimination in the provision of health-care services on the basis of age,” Hurley said during an online media conference on Thursday afternoon.

“(In Cornwall and across the province) this discrimination will only worsen as the (elderly population) increases over the next few decades.”

Speakers representing groups including the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly railed against how the province has handled health care for seniors over many years, long before the pandemic, but that COVID-19 – and the nearly 4,000 LTC residents in Ontario that the disease has taken – needs to be a turning point.

“Thousands of people were left to die (in LTC facilities across Ontario),” Hurley said, adding fears of overwhelming the hospitals and the ICUs with patients, as was the case in some European countries, meant the elderly stayed in LTC and in many cases infected others.

“That (overwhelming of Ontario hospitals) never happened,” Hurley said. “We left thousands to die without giving them (treatment in hospitals).”

Natalie Mehra, director of the Ontario Health Coalition (OHC), blasted the conditions in LTCs and what she considers sub-standard care over many years, the issue horribly magnified during the pandemic.

Discussing what she called the “worst mass-casualty event in (LTC) history (for the province),” and the “terrible inadequacy of care,” Mehra localized the conference by reviewing the numbers of deaths and illnesses at facilities including Woodland Villa in Long Sault, the Lancaster long-term care centre, and the Prescott-Russell Residence in Hawkesbury.

Long-term care residents at other facilities in Cornwall and Akwesasne also figure into the stats on local COVID-19 fatalities.

She said if it were a younger demographic group after a horrific accident or event, that the victims “wouldn’t be left to die… unable to dress in some cases, nobody to bathe them, not being provided basic care.”

Mehra said 60 of the 69 deaths as of Wednesday in the EOHU region were LTC residents, that across Ontario just 22 per cent of LTC residents were ever hospitalized prior to dying, compared to over 80 per cent of the other victims.

She railed against hospital diversion culture that continued through the first two waves of the pandemic, saying the “horrible truth is thousands (in LTC) were left to die, isolated, improperly cared for, without family close by. It’s a cruel picture.

“So many were not given the opportunity even when gravely ill.”

Regardless of the pandemic, LTC in the province is a mess, speaker after speaker said. Mehra said that Champlain LHIN numbers indicate that on average a total of less than 200 LTC beds become available in the region each month, and that the wait time for some people is over 1,800 days – about five years.

Jane Meadus, staff lawyer and institutional advocate for Advocacy Centre for the Elderly, and lawyer Adriel Weaver, with Goldblatt Partners, also spoke during the conference.

They’re all calling for Ontario’s Human Rights Commission to conduct a long-overdue inquiry, saying long-standing ‘de-hospitalization’and rationing of hospital and LTC are health policies that disproportionately hurt the elderly and must be challenged.

Last week, Donna Duncan, CEO of the Ontario Long-term Care Association (OLTCA) said in an online media conference that successfully rebuilding the LTC sector will require rethinking how LTC fits in Ontario’s health-care system, and speeding up the flow of money.

The main recommendations are better integration of LTC homes into the health system, expediting the province’s capital redevelopment program, focusing on performance and accountability around the care elements, and stabilizing human resources.

“In order to care for people, we need people,” Duncan said. “Our (LTC) staff are traumatized, stigmatized and exhausted – physically and mentally.”

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