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We must let our outrage drive real change in care for vulnerable citizens

Posted: June 22, 2020

(June 21, 2020)

No one I know of is eagerly awaiting the day when they will be placed in a long-term-care facility. Quite the contrary — people repeatedly express a desire to remain living in their own homes as they age. But the system currently offers little to no choice. One in three of us will end up in such a place.

Our elderly citizens have been treated with outdated practices that are dehumanizing, with Ontario having the dishonour of institutionalizing elderly citizens at among the highest rates in the world.

Most often these facilities operate for profit, creating an unacceptable risk as a result of the driving force of profit-over-care goals. Among those detailing these risks is Dr. Ernie Lightman, a University of Toronto Professor with a PhD in economics. He puts it bluntly — “The main avenue to increase profit is to reduce costs.” It’s simple math. Profit margins trump resident care.

There is no secret here. The way our society has responded to the needs of our vulnerable elderly is shameful. Additionally, a number of younger people with disabilities have been unwillingly placed in such settings. They repeatedly call for relocation to more normalized alternatives.

Within our collective memories, society has progressively recognized the harmful effects of institutionalizing people, from orphanages to large facilities for people with disabilities. We have taken action to develop more humane alternatives. But these changes didn’t come about on their own — they were driven by outrage. They were led by insightful and courageous people, and they were implemented when everyday people created a demand that couldn’t be ignored.

Alternatives that respectfully respond to the needs of this population are possible and are successfully operating around the world. We can ensure meaningful quality of lives in the settings of peoples’ choice by investing in these initiatives. Other countries are leading the way, including Italy, Israel, Sweden, Australia and Japan.

There is a common belief that there will always be some people who require care in an institution, but this is simply not true. Evidence exists that even those with very challenging needs can be safely cared for in their own homes, or in small homelike settings. In so doing, they can be enabled to live more healthy and meaningful lives.

Multiple organizations such as the Ontario Human Rights Commission, the Ontario Health Coalition and the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly all speak clearly to the need for substantial revision to the system of elder care.

The existing system is not only “broken” as Premier Ford has acknowledged, it is shattered.

To develop home-care responsibly, we must use best practices in caring for people, whatever their age or circumstances. Home-care services must not replicate the for-profit models with their proven risks. Building supports which are individualized and inclusive of the person’s goals and capacities is essential. Focusing only on personal or medical needs leaves a whole component of needs unaddressed. Supporting people in their own homes as extensively as possible is absolutely feasible, and has been shown to be successful for people with disabilities who have similar support requirements.

Let your voice be heard loud and clear. Let outrage fuel your demand for a bold and respectful change in how we support all people in our province. Write, call or email your MPP, the ministers of health, of long-term-care, and the premier. We can no longer allow our elderly to be treated as out-of-sight, out-of-mind.

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