By Mike Baker
After issuing a proverbial call to arms last May, a new community group committed to improving conditions within the region’s long-term care homes is continuing to share their concerns that many senior residents living within those facilities are not being treated with respect and dignity.
Local residents Bonnie Roe and Mike Perry launched the Long-Term Care Coalition after hearing horror stories from friends and family who have loved ones presently living in nursing homes and retirement facilities.
Together, the pair rallied a small group of community activists, who have spent the past eight months lobbying for drastic systemic change to the long-term care system.
Speaking to the Times recently, the pair pointed towards the devastating COVID-19 outbreak at nearby Pinecrest Nursing Home in Bobcaygeon last March and the disastrous roof leak and subsequent months-long evacuation of Highland Wood in Haliburton as big indicators that change is not only needed, but long overdue.
“We’re very concerned that our seniors are not being treated with respect and dignity,” Roe said. “When you look at the resources that are going in to support our seniors, it’s not enough. And that’s really our crucial issue – that these people are not getting the amount of care that they need.”
As a registered nurse in her professional life, this is an issue that is particularly close to Roe’s heart.
“This is an important issue to me. I have spent time, at one point in my career, working in a long-term care facility, so when I see seniors being isolated, when I see the government not providing the care, or the necessary funds to these long-term care institutions, it just breaks my heart,” Roe said. “I do not think that seniors, in their final days, deserve to be placed in a home, and then be ignored and disrespected.”
The coalition has established a list of five core priorities it intends to chip away at over the coming months. Right at the top of the list is advocating for the inclusion of long-term care to the Canada Health Act, a move that Perry says will completely change the way the sector operates.
“We need to fix the system. When you think about it, long-term care is considered to be a part of general healthcare. So, really, it should be under the Canada Health Act. Doing that does two things – it makes funding exclusively public, and it also provides national standards. Enforceable national standards,” Perry said.
“Tommy Douglas [considered the father of universal health coverage in Canada] always said that Medicare as we know it, it was always phase one. Then there would have to be other phases implemented to make sure we have a more holistic system,” Perry added. “What we’ve seen now, given the ongoing pandemic, is a spotlight highlighting some of the shortcomings of long-term care. And many of these issues have been long-standing.”
Back in May, after sending soldiers into many of Ontario’s long-term care homes to help deal with the mass outbreaks of COVID-19, the Canadian Armed Forces released a damning 15-page report shining a light on the horrible conditions its members witnessed at five nursing homes in the GTA.
Brigadier General C.J.J. Mialkowski noted that military members identified a number of medical, professional and technical issues present at the sites, mainly in the standards and quality of medical care provided to residents.
In the immediate aftermath of the report being made public, Merrilee Fullerton, Ontario’s minister of long-term care, said the provincial system had been “ignored” and “neglected” for decades. Premier Doug Ford called the whole system “broken” and promised that much-needed changes would be imminent.
The best way to implement real change, Perry believes, is to take away the money-making aspect of the business.
“We need to get profit motives out of long-term care. I have no idea why we ever conceptualized caring for our elderly as a profit making venture in the first place,” Perry said. “The pandemic is really encouraging us to rethink and reimagine things, and I think this would be a good place to start.”
Roe brings up the Butterfly Model of Care, first conceptualized in Europe and today being used in long-term care systems across the globe, predominantly with individuals living with dementia, as a positive example of putting the needs of residents first. The model focuses on delivering emotion-focused care that connects with people in a dignified, human way. It addresses the holistic needs of individuals and supports good quality of life for residents.
To help change the culture of long-term care to being more resident-centred and rights based, Roe believes the industry needs to implement several recommendations made by the Registered Nursing Association of Ontario to increase staffing at all facilities. A key cog of this recommendation calls for every resident to receive at least four hours of direct care every day, while it also states facility administrators should look to improve workloads, working conditions and conditions for care. The report also calls for increased infection prevention and control.
Roe believes the reinstation of annual resident quality inspections of all long-term care homes, with consistency in enforcement when inspections yield rule violations in homes, could go a long way towards fixing some of the issues presently plaguing the industry.
While changes are necessary, Perry wants to make it clear that he believes the problems that persist today are a result of a broken system rather than anything to do with the staff who work inside the homes.
“We support and are very grateful for our frontline workers. To us, this is an issue of the problems within the system and structure that have existed for some time. COVID-19 just brought them to the fore,” Perry said. “We know that staff are working hard and are getting burnt out and need more resources, and pay, and training. Those are all things that we’ve built into our goals as well.”
The LTC Coalition presently boasts around seven core members, with a further 40 to 50 offering varying levels of support, Roe said. The group is hosting a virtual town hall meeting this Friday [Jan. 29] at 7:30 p.m. for the purpose of, hopefully, finding more members and soliciting local residents’ ideas and opinions on how to fix Ontario’s long-term care sector.
The group is also participating in an ongoing radio campaign, running until Feb. 5 on CanoeFM here in Haliburton County and BobFM, based in Lindsay. The purpose of that initiative, Roe says, is “just to bring more awareness to our group.”
Perry, in particular, is excited for the upcoming town hall.
“We’re going to use that to really listen to those who participate, and use that information to decide our future action. We know there are lots of good ideas and suggestions out there right now, but we’re really trying to focus and make sure that we’re effective on a short list of the main changes we feel are in need to the system,” Perry said.
For more information on the group, and to find out how to tune into the upcoming town hall, visit ltcneedsyou.ca.