By Mike Baker
One of the leaders behind a local coalition committed to improving quality of care for seniors living in long-term care homes has criticized Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock MPP Laurie Scott for “ignoring” a 3,600 signature-strong petition calling for change in the industry.
Bonnie Roe, who helped launch the Haliburton-City of Kawartha Lakes Long-Term Care Coalition back in 2020 after watching on in horror as COVID-19 ran roughshod over LTC facilities across the province, has been working hard to inspire change in a sector she has described as toxic and broken.
The most significant piece of her effort to date has been the creation of a petition, calling upon Scott to take the concerns of her constituents upstairs, directly to the likes of Rod Phillips, Ontario’s new minister of long-term care, Health Minister Christine Elliott and Premier Doug Ford, to find immediate solutions to “this long-standing crisis” in LTC.
That petition was launched in April, and formally delivered to Scott’s office in Lindsay on Aug. 6.
“We already knew that Laurie wouldn’t be there – because we invited the press, we were told Laurie would need her communications person from Queen’s Park to attend, and, during the summer, that just wasn’t possible, so we knew that going in,” Roe said. “Still, it’s been two weeks … I would have expected a phone call by now, but we still haven’t heard [from Scott].
“That’s disappointing, not so much just from our group’s perspective, but from the perspective of the 3,600 constituents who were hoping that their concerns would be heard,” Roe continued.
The petition outlined five key areas for change the local LTC coalition has identified as being most in need. They include amending the Canada Health Act to incorporate long-term care facilities, to ensure they receive necessary public funding and are forced to maintain national standards for cleanliness and care; provide at least four hours of direct care per day, per resident and improve working conditions for staff; reinstate annual inspections and implement strict fines for those who fail; change the culture of care for seniors, moving away from an institutional feel to create a more homely atmosphere; and take the profits out of Long-Term Care and reinstate them as a public-only service.
While she knew there was an appetite in our community to see change in the industry, Roe says she was a little surprised by the response received.
“We are certainly pleased by the number of respondents we had – very happy indeed. Ever since we delivered the petition, we’ve had another 400 sign on, so our true number now is actually in excess of 4,000,” Roe said.
Through correspondence with Scott’s office, the Echo was told that, in the original petition signed by 3,600 individuals, the majority of those who signed were not residents of the HKLB riding. Kailie Oortwyn, legislative affairs advisor with Scott’s office, said more than half of the petitioners resided out of province or overseas, with many from British Columbia, Saskatchewan and the United States.
In an emailed comment to the Echo Scott intimated the Ontario government was doing a good job investing in long-term care.
“After decades of neglect from successive governments, our government is moving quickly to address the challenges the sector faces and modernize how long-term care is delivered in Ontario,” Scott said. “In our 2021 Budget, we added $933 million, on top of the $1.75 billion we had already invested, to create 20,161 new beds and 15,918 upgraded beds built to a modern, 21st century design standard. This is more than two-thirds of our commitment of 30,000 new long-term care beds by 2028.”
Scott says the government is also on track to ensure LTC residents receive more direct care from staff. She says the province has committed to investing $4.9 billion over four years to increase the average of daily direct care from 2.75 hours to four hours – a request outlined in Roe’s petition – something Scott believes will make Ontario the leader in direct care in Canada.
Referencing inspections, Scott says changes will soon be coming to ensure LTC facilities are held accountable should they fall below acceptable standards.
“The inspection process exists to keep our residents in long-term care safe, and improving inspections is a recommendation that was made both by the Long-Term Care Commission and the Auditor General and we are actively working on changes to the inspection regime by introducing new legislation in the fall, which will create new accountability measures for the sector,” Scott said.
Despite these promises, Roe remains skeptical. She plans to attend a protest at Queen’s Park in Toronto on Sept. 13 to express her concerns over the way the province is managing long-term care.
In the meantime, she also plans to meet with each of the candidates running for office here in Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock in the upcoming federal election to see where they stand on long-term care.
“Our number one goal, the thing we want to see most is for the Canada Health Act to include long-term care. It should be amended … to ensure public funds and national standards are guaranteed,” Roe said. “So, although LTC is, strictly speaking, provincial jurisdiction, we feel this is prime time for us to get our message out there.
“The fact we’ve been able to put together a petition that has now been signed by more than 4,000 people, it shows that this is a serious issue and needs the attention of our MP to inspire change,” Roe concluded.
For more information on the Haliburton-City of Kawartha Lakes Long-Term Care Coalition, visit www.ltcneedsyou.ca.
By Mike Baker