Time for Ontario to wake up to the looming long-term care crisis

I have an annus horribilis in rural Ontario, a difficult year. I wrote my first book about the flood of refugees into our communities—more than 1,000 of my family and friends were forced to…

Time for Ontario to wake up to the looming long-term care crisis

I have an annus horribilis in rural Ontario, a difficult year. I wrote my first book about the flood of refugees into our communities—more than 1,000 of my family and friends were forced to leave flood-ravaged Elora, 200 friends were evacuated to other places from Clinton, and hundreds more moved to nearby Chatham. We had gone to events that became critically important: Henry, my mother’s father, lived on a farm to which I could hear her crying out as she pushed a wheelchair. His death motivated all of us to seek long-term housing. Shortly thereafter, shortly after my brother-in-law died, those neighbors who had helped me rescued my three-year-old daughter’s mother from the apartment building where she was living in terrible harm. I moved into a new house and all three children were settled in long-term care.

It was in this precarious yet euphoric interval that my work was born. Since I wrote my first article about long-term care, my mother and two older brothers have died, and my wife and I have our first child. Along with the passing of my maternal grandmothers, the burden of our province’s unmanageable housing crisis became heavy in the foreground of my story. My daughter is now a toddler and we no longer live in assisted living, but there is one looming challenge: Are we going to be able to move her to a safe and secure long-term home? Like all Ontarians, we now live in constant fear that our long-term care system is broken and about to break us apart.

The specter of the long-term care crisis is familiar to every Ontarian. The reality is that almost every Ontarian will face the terrifying prospect of living in long-term care facilities at some point in their lives. But this crisis is unlike any other in Ontario’s recent history. The system, which was introduced in 1954, was intended to address mental illness and pregnancy-related distress. It is slowly dying a slow death. When my wife came to the care centre she is in, she said there were some cases that I had reported that still weren’t receiving treatment. This number is likely much higher than it appears because there are many caregivers that go out of their way to take care of people in their care, but there are few resources to support them and there are no incentives for them to do it. Some caregivers don’t want to do it; some don’t have the help; and some no longer need the support.

Ontario has adopted a number of important reforms and policies in response to the crisis. In 2017, the government went to Queen’s Park and promised to pass legislation that would both address funding shortages and establish the Provincial Long-Term Care Ombudsman, appointed last month. The Office of the Ombudsman will help to prevent abuse and neglect, hold services to account, and advocate for improved services for Ontarians. The legislation outlining this legislation has already passed the Legislative Assembly, and the Ombudsman will begin doing his work in August.

It is important that those who need care can access it as soon as possible. The government must also monitor, interrogate, and evaluate systems in order to make sure the responses are as effective as possible. To do this, they must maintain public accountability. It is imperative that we recognize that long-term care is not just a cost-saving endeavour, but a fundamental human right.

Governments need to be transparent about the extent of the crisis. Children and Youth Services Minister Lisa MacLeod should have no difficulty issuing a clear announcement about the status of the nine children who have been deemed unfit to be in institutional care, as I was on the new legislation already. Other voices within government must follow suit. There must be a legislative framework ensuring there are mechanisms in place to monitor and require improvements when need be. An inventory of all individuals living in long-term care facilities is the first step. No one should wait for a future report from the Ombudsman before they make an informed choice about long-term care and making sure it’s the best choice for them.

Some ideas for policy changes were not funded by the Liberals or, when there was opposition, were too early in the process. Many ideas are needed that will require constitutional changes. That said, long-term care needs a facelift in Ontario, and fast. There are at least 16 residential facilities in my community that are at risk of being shut down. If Ontario leaders have learned from other provinces that manage to tackle these complex issues through legislation

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