By Alex Trembath, Director of Government Relations, LaRoche Bros., Inc.
Ontario has introduced new measures to keep seniors safe in their homes, in response to a warning from the province’s ombudsman that the situation is “dire” and that there are “thousands of serious investigations into care and safety.”
In an 18-page report, Yvan Baker, Ontario’s Ombudsman, described the situation as the worst he’s seen in 20 years in the post, and recommended major changes, including hiring more nurses, or directing them towards patients in greatest need. He also recommended that inspectors be required to be on site during the overnight shift, with special measures aimed at keeping bed bugs at bay, and that others mandate that only licensed nursing staff be permitted to prescribe medication.
Of particular concern are two trends: a growing trend of neglect and abuse within long-term care homes, coupled with the high incidence of dementia within Ontario’s aging population, threatening to make many longer-term care beds dangerously inadequate for the elderly.
This mess of neglect, abuse, and danger in Ontario’s long-term care homes was exemplified last month, when two residents were burned by boiling water in a long-term care home; a while back, when a resident was left inside his room for hours with no lights on, and watched video games on his tablet while a 22-year-old male resident accidentally tapped him on the head with a shovel. The answer, according to the inspector who investigated the incident, was to “dump the hourglass.”
The situation in Ontario’s long-term care homes and the need for reforms is reason for some wonder why the system has not been more effective in dealing with problems.
Since 2002, the province has invested $2.2 billion in long-term care homes in Ontario, with both health care and construction efforts (like the C-section) mentioned in the report. Yet “nursing shortages,” due to baby boomers living longer and living in more complex needs, have become endemic to long-term care facilities.
In the last five years, there have been more than 1,100 complaints filed by residents against long-term care facilities that have been closing their doors and moving to better homes.
Long-term care homes continue to lose money in Ontario, and fall far short of the capacity it needs to be financially stable. In fact, some suggest that there are enough government subsidies for every man, woman, and child in the province, but long-term care facilities struggle to stay afloat. The state-funded gravy train leaves huge portions of Ontario unable to have adequate long-term care care.
These sorts of trends are not a new problem, but the situation has worsened as aging seniors have taken their place in society. The average age of an Ontario resident will exceed 65 years of age by 2030. And Ontario’s latest long-term care home report shows that 75 percent of the population of long-term care homes fall into this demographic.
Ontario’s long-term care homes are caught in a vicious cycle. It’s not always fair to ask the government to regulate homes based on the individual needs of their residents. There may be no firm answer to these problems, however, the good news is that the government has come up with a plan. The next challenge will be to make sure this plan lives up to its potential, and actually gets things done.
Alex Trembath serves as director of government relations for LaRoche Bros., Inc. in Montreal, and was the deputy finance minister in Saskatchewan for 12 years. Before entering government relations in 2007, Alex worked in the private sector in corporate finance and government relations for companies across the country.