Kudos to the CBC program Marketplace for its investigation into long-term care homes in Ontario. It was shockingly disturbing with an abundance of video evidence that would turn anyone’s stomach.
The headline tells the story of hapless souls abused by caregivers in unforgivable ways. Before thinking abuse and neglect would never happen in one of the finest homes in Ontario, take a breath and exhale slowly.
One of the worst examples cited in the CBC investigation was the renowned Baycrest, which is a provincially funded long-term care home with deep roots in Toronto’s Jewish Community.
When the video shows an elderly resident savagely beaten by another resident with dementia, when the resident dies four days later and the family is lied to for months until the video surfaced, you have to wonder how, what, where and why.
You have to ask every question there is to ask. While the death was unusual, the altercation is more of a frequent occurrence than one would imagine. Shortage of personnel means no guarantee of timely intervention when required. There is no law in Ontario regulating the number of personal-care workers per resident.
In another long-term care facility, a camera catches a personal-care worker punching an elderly bed-ridden man in the face. Then there was the personal-care worker who removed a diaper and menacingly put the contents under the nose of the resident.
The Marketplace investigation clearly indicated these incidents were snapshots of a pattern of abusive acts directed at residents – our most vulnerable and frail citizens and, for many of us, our loved ones. Those unfortunate people have nowhere else to go because of the physical or mental state they are in. Once in long-term care, no one ever goes home. Where there is no hope, there is little joy.
While several homes in Ottawa were investigated by the CBC, our community’s Hillel Lodge was not. Its documented standing for years as a well-run facility with top grades in the caregiver-to-resident ratio did not make Hillel Lodge much of a story. There is an important reality though: Hillel Lodge’s ratio has fallen from the top to the middle of the pack in the Ottawa area.
And even with its good record, Hillel Lodge had a setback in 2014 when a resident died from a fall while being put in bed from an automated lift. Trying to be helpful, a caregiver made a mistake.
In every long-term care home, this focused public scrutiny increases the need for full disclosure. Then there are the tight budgets, rising wages and increasing demands, which collectively take a toll on all homes, even the good places such as Baycrest and Hillel Lodge. Managers operating long-term care homes were dealt cards from the bottom of the deck.
When the Ontario government closed specialty hospitals for the mentally ill and developmentally challenged, the long-term care homes were often the only places these people could go. An already beleaguered system had to unexpectedly take on a whole new set of residents with their own special, diverse and time-consuming needs.
The available dollars only go so far. Managers simply don’t have enough money to fill their staffing needs. It reminds me of the budget-cutting days I saw at the CBC, when the mantra from the bosses was “we are going to do more with less.” But that was about television. This is about people.
One solution, if the resident or the family has the money, is to hire a companion to help the resident get through the day. The underlying reality is that the publicly funded system often leaves severely challenged people alone most of the day languishing in a hallway.
The long-term care system is cracking when it should be preparing for the tsunami of baby boomers soon to come. The numbers are staggering. It is unthinkable to consider the horror show around the corner.
It is only when you get older, as you begin thinking about these things that you realize our federal Health Care Act makes no provision for long-term care. There are no standards, no rules, and no earmarked money.
As for the province, bluntly put, Ontario is already strapped trying to put more money in big hospitals for people with futures.
Today and tomorrow’s crisis be damned – long-term care is not a government priority.