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‘These are vulnerable people’ – Seniors shafted in bid to transfer patients to nursing homes sans consent: Sault public health advocate

Posted: August 31, 2022

(August 30, 2022)

By: Jeffery Ougler, Sault Star

Skipping public hearings for legislation that would allow hospital patients awaiting Ontario long-term care to be transferred to a nursing home without their consent is “unprecedented” and targets society’s most “vulnerable,” contends a Sault Ste. Marie public health advocate.

The province’s stand that the legislation will free up badly needed acute-care beds in hospitals rings hollow and unfairly hurts seniors and their families, says Marie DellaVedova, Ontario Health Coalition’s Sault representative.

“Is the onus on elderly, frail people to do that? Why are we looking at voiceless people to solve a problem?” DellaVedova said during an interview Tuesday with the Sault Star.

“Why are we causing them more hardship and doing that to family members? That doesn’t seem to me as though we’ve looked very hard or very far to find a solution.”

“We wouldn’t treat any other group, I don’t think, in society this way. But these are vulnerable people. Most don’t have a voice. So, it seems to me we’re taking advantage of their vulnerability to do this.”

The legislation would allow hospital patients to be transferred to a temporary long-term care home without their consent while they await a bed in their preferred facility.

The province says there are about 6,000 patients in hospital who require an “alternate level of care” and should be discharged from hospital. Among those patients, 2,000 are on a waiting list for long-term care homes, the province said.

The Progressive Conservative government passed a motion Monday to advance the bill without having it considered by committee or be subject to public hearings. The Opposition NDP sought to stop the government from skipping the public hearing process, but that motion failed.

Efforts to free up what are long-term care beds intended for patients with chronic conditions will not solve hospital “problems,” said DellaVedova, adding more access to emergency and intensive care is what’s immediately needed, requiring more staff, “specialized health-care people to treat patients who are in need of that kind of care.”

“Why aren’t we making sure that we hire more nurses and keep the ones we have?” DellaVedova said. “We need to recognize the value of our front-line health-care workers. We need to show them that we care about them. We need to pay them more. We need to resolve their problems with working conditions so that we retain the staff we have, and entice new people into these positions.”

Hospitals across the province have shuttered emergency departments for hours or days at a time due to a severe nursing staff shortage in recent months.

“Staffing challenges” have been pegged for fluctuating volumes and wait times at Sault Area Hospital’s emergency department in the past so many months, with the facility posting a message on its Facebook page more than once that due to high patient volumes and staffing shortages in the emergency department, patients who arrive there may experience longer wait times.

SAH did not attribute staffing issues to COVID-19.

“Our staffing challenges are impacted by many factors across multiple departments and areas,” the hospital said in June. “At this time, our emergency department is feeling the most impact.

“We continue our recruitment efforts for the ED, and all departments within the hospital to meet the needs of our community.”

Condemnation for the move was swift and fierce.

Seniors are “downright angry” about the bill, said Trish McAuliffe, president of that National Pensioners Federation, which represents more than one million people. She said members of the organization are also alarmed and afraid.

“Bill 7 swipes directly at the core of human dignity: an older person’s and their family’s right to the enjoyment of life and respect,” McAuliffe said.

And on Wednesday, the Ontario Health Coalition, the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly (ACE) and the Canadian Union of Public Employees, announced they are escalating their call for the Ontario Human Rights Commission to launch a formal inquiry into systemic discrimination in the provision of health care in Ontario against the elderly based on age.

A chief concern for DellaVedova is about where patients will be placed under the proposed legislative changes, be it far from home or in a community without proper supports. This rings true especially in a district the size of Algoma or region as vast as that of Northern Ontario, she added.

“I think (Sault Ste. Marie seniors) could sent to Timmins or Sudbury … We’re talking about people in Toronto who could be possible be sent to Peterborough,” DellaVedova said.

Distance language has not been defined in this proposed legislation, she added.

“We don’t know if there’s going to be any limit on distances,” DellaVedova said. “That’s one thing we have to look for. Regardless, there are hardships involved as soon as you send a family member far away. It makes it difficult for family members to visit and, to me, part of a resident’s care is their psychological and emotional state. They have to feel comfortable and not abandoned.”

Nursing home neglect became apparent during the height of COVID when families could not visit loved ones, DellaVedova said.

“(Residents) didn’t get fed … (prior to the pandemic) many of them had family members coming in to make sure that they ate and make sure that they stayed healthy,” she added. “If we do this, we’re losing that contact and family members won’t even know how their elderly loved ones are doing.”

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