Local advocate to improve long-term care Bonnie Roe, who stands at left, faces the speaker Julie Perl, as she shares her story about losing her mother, who died in long-term care after being isolated for six months during a protest in Stouffville to deliver a message to long-term care minister Paul Calandra recently. Photo by Maureen McDermott.

Taking advocacy to long-term care minister

By Darren Lum

A local advocate for improving the conditions of long-term care homes in Ontario is feeling good after a protest in front of Ontario’s Long-term Care Minister Paul Calandra’s office, which garnered news coverage on Thursday, Feb. 10 in Stouffville.

Bonnie Roe, who is a member of the Long-term care Coalition for Haliburton – City of Kawartha Lakes, was one of six members of the Ontario Health Coalition Committee to speak at the protest where they hoped to see Calandra in-person.

She delivered the land acknowledgement and shared two stories: one from a personal support worker in the City of Kawartha Lakes (CKL), who talked about a veteran that likened his life in a long-term care facility as being worse than the war or like being in jail. The second one was by a family member from CKL, who was “beside herself remembering the loss of both of her parents to COVID.” Both anecdotes were shared in 2020 by NDP leader Andrea Horwarth at the legislature, which Roe witnessed virtually.
The motivation behind her passion to raise the concerns of long-term care staff and the residents (and their families) comes from how there is a lack of a voice for the elderly.

“It’s almost like there is no spokesperson for the long-term care crisis when you’re in the middle of a huge crisis and it’s in many long term care homes. It’s not getting any better. There are still a lot of deaths even with vaccinations, isolation, lack of PPE,” she said. “So, we said, let’s see if we can communicate with either of them.”

She was referencing Calandra, but also past long-term care minister Rod Phillips, who’s resignation was not known, as there wasn’t an official announcement until recently.

Roe said before the protest she made repeated attempts to contact the minister by phone, but there was no response.

“The huge thing is that seniors, or our elders are respected and receive quality care and that’s key and that is something I’m hoping this new long-term care minister will change,” she said.

They plan to pursue an in-person future meeting with Calandara.

“We still hope to. We’re going to be back. We left a letter because like I said they weren’t in the office and we didn’t have an appointment because they didn’t get back to me, but we’re going to pursue it and see if he will meet with us because we want to see that we are very grounded and that there are certain new policy or protocols he could put in place and I know he has many, many groups to probably listen to, but we’re just a small group and, if we can make a difference that’s why we did the protest,” she said.

She said they may not have been able to meet Calandra in-person (he was not there), but they were able to deliver their message through news outlets Global TV and Omni Television.

“It’s short and sweet, but [their news segments] shows everything. Global did a good job of covering it,” she said, referencing the recorded speeches at the protest and footage from within a long-term care facility.

The coalition is asking to improve long-term care by providing staff with PPE (N95 masks and shields), improve ventilation at facilities to improve air quality for staff, visitors and residents, offer paid sick leave, offer full time hours, improve pay to address staffing issues.

Although Roe is skeptical Calandra can be an effective long-term care minister, with how he is also the Minister of Legislative Affairs and the Government House Leader, she’s, skeptically, hopeful.

“You would think our elders deserve a full-time minister of long-term care,” she said. “I don’t know how he’s going to ever do it. But if his first out of the gate recommendation was to loosen the restrictions around isolation then I commend him and I just hope that he continues because with Rod Phillips we were seeing some small changes too. And then all of a sudden he resigned.”

Calandra announced the easing of the health measures at long-term care facilities, which included permitting social trips and residents to be allowed to see more caregivers. This came a week after public health rules were eased.

With the coalition’s #SOSinLTC, the protest highlighted the dire situation that faces long-term care in Ontario. Committee member MaryJo Nabuurs spoke to the requests for improved safety and working conditions for staff (as per the letter sent to MPP and LTC Minister Paul Calandra) and quality of care and safety for vulnerable residents, at a time when the province is loosening restrictions in communities.

“Let’s turn the SOS and LTC in to JOYinLTC.” Nabuurs said

“And I think that was a beautiful ending to our protest yesterday,” Roe said.

In Haliburton County, Roe was complimentary about how the area long-term care facilities were being managed.

“So our long-term care homes have been, I would say, very progressive and very sensitive to the needs of residents and you see that if you’re on the Facebook page for Extendicare, referencing a recent themed night, with food and decorations. “I think we’re very fortunate in Haliburton County with the quality of care that we have,” she said.

“I think it’s happening because we are a small community and I think the people who work in long-term care or geriatric care have to love working with seniors … It is because the staff love what they do and love the residents and I guess management has made sure that there is adequate staffing and I really commend our local long-term care homes for that,” she said.

Post-protest comments

Since the protest, long-term care minister Paul Calandra announced the provincial government was investing $6.4 billion to build more than 30,000 net new beds by 2028 and 28,000 upgraded long-term care beds in the province. This includes a new building for Extendicare-Haliburton, who will add 68 new and 60 upgraded long-term care beds.

Roe recognized the irony of this announcement, following the protest she attended.

“We were advocating for the Ford government moving forward to only fund not-for-profit homes, ensure that residents, visitors and staff wear N95 masks and face shields, reinstate unannounced inspections and increase training and wages for staff. That being said, although Extendicare Haliburton is a for-profit long-term care facility, it has an incredible reputation in our community and our LTC Coalition commends management and staff for providing a very high quality of care to keep residents safe during the pandemic. We acknowledge it is one of the older homes that is long overdue for updates by 2025 and there is a huge shortage of LTC beds in our county,” she wrote in a prepared statement. “Having had numerous discussions with MPP Laurie Scott about ‘re-thinking our broken LTC system’, we believe this would have been a key opportunity for our government to have supported community consultations, looked at funding not-for-profit homes, adequately funding home care and gleaning from other countries who have built small, alternative, community models that are ‘person-driven and feel like home for our elders.’