By Mike Baker
Bonnie Roe has had enough.
As one of the founding members of the Haliburton-City of Kawartha Lakes Long-Term Care Coalition, Roe has spent the past 12 months advocating for local seniors and calling for much-needed improvements to both public and privately operated long-term care facilities in Ontario.
Her movement has caught on. With dozens of Haliburton County residents joining the newly-formed Coalition in recent months, Roe has found that she isn’t alone in feeling seniors presently living in long-term care homes are being neglected. There’s a deep sense that these people are not being treated with the respect and dignity that they deserve.
And for that, she blames one person – Ontario Premier Doug Ford.
On Tuesday, Roe will be one of approximately 4,000 individuals from across the province to participate in a virtual rally, to pack the public galleries of the Ontario Legislature during Question Period and, once again, call on Ford to take responsibility for the many issues that have plagued the long-term care industry for years and revamp the system.
“We can’t fill the Legislature physically during the shutdown, but we can organize thousands of Ontarians to pack the public galleries virtually for Question Period,” said Roe, who has assisted the Ontario Health Coalition [OHC] in setting up the protest. “The purpose is to engage the premier and his caucus in questions about the long-term care crisis before they go off on their summer break. They continue to not recognize that [the industry] is in crisis, that they are still failing seniors and their loved ones.”
Roe said the number of people OHC is planning to involve in Tuesday’s event is symbolic, representing the 4,000 residents and staff from Ontario’s long-term care homes that have died since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last March.
Opposition leaders – the NDP’s Andrea Horwath and Liberal Steven Del Duca – have agreed to ask questions provided by the OHC during the session.
Roe has been charged with organizing those questions. She said they will cover all aspects of the long-term care crisis, from concerns over staffing to a lack of regulated inspections. She plans to reference a recently-released report from Bonnie Lysyk, Ontario’s auditor general, which states the long-term care sector and the ministry that oversees it were not prepared or equipped to handle the many issues brought on by the pandemic.
“Since the report came out, there has been nothing. There has been no change, there’s been no suggestion that the Ford government is going to do anything. They say that the blame lies at their feet, even though they have since tried to blame previous governments,” Roe said. “If they really cared about this… they would be putting forward a strong message. Instead, their messaging continues to be weak.”
Roe was especially critical of Merrilee Fullerton, Ontario’s minister of long-term care.
“The minister is nothing short of degrading when she talks about issues [surrounding long-term care]. It’s almost as if seniors don’t matter,” Roe said. “This is her portfolio. These people should matter to her. She should be the advocate leading the charge for change. Instead she’s hiding behind [the premier], failing to take action.”
While much of her time over the past couple of weeks has been spent organizing for this virtual rally, Roe said the local Coalition, of which she is the chair, is going strong. Its members have established a list of six core priorities it intends to chip away at over the coming months. Right at the top of the list is advocating for the inclusion of long-term care to the Canada Health Act, something Roe has previously said will completely change the way the sector operates.
The group also wants to increase staffing to ensure all residents receive at least four hours of direct care per day; reinstate annual resident quality inspections of all long-term care homes, with consistency in enforcement when inspections yield rule violations; explore new models of care; change the culture of long-term care to be more attentive to the value of elders; and stop for-profit companies from opening new nursing homes in Ontario.
An online petition titled ‘Save our Seniors – Fix Long-Term Care’ has garnered 3,232 signatures as of press time. Later this month, Roe plans to present that petition to Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock MPP Laurie Scott, and her federal counterpart Jamie Schmale, before delivering it to Ford and Fullerton.
“This petition is our next step to promoting awareness about this issue. We’re really proud of the response we’ve had so far,” Roe said. “I had hoped we’d be over this by now, that there would have been action taken, but unfortunately nothing is changing. We need to push the Ford government to take action. So, as a group we’re forging ahead.”
For more information on the local Coalition, or to sign the online petition visit www.change.org/p/provincial-government-save-our-seniors-fix-long-term-care.