Ontario’s hurry-up-and-die approach needs fixing
TheStar.com – news/Ontario
Published On Sat Feb 26 2011. By Thomas Walkom, National Affairs Columnist
Ontario’s system for dealing with frail old people is a mess. That’s the only lesson to be drawn from a series of investigations this newspaper has carried out over the last eight years.
Nursing homes may treat their roughly 77,000 elderly residents better than they did in 2003, when the Star last took a sustained look. But they are still woefully inadequate.
Indeed, one of the most shocking facts from this week’s Star series on care for the aged is that the average wait time to get into a nursing home has tripled since 2005 — to 105 days.
Yet the Liberal government treats nursing homes as one if its success stories.
Retirement homes and home care are the other two components of Ontario’s haphazard system of dealing with old people needing help. In theory, all three are supposed to fit together.
Retirement homes are supposed to service older people who are still relatively healthy but may need help in matters like cooking and cleaning — and who can afford the hefty cost (they’re not government-subsidized.)
Nursing homes are supposed to handle frailer old people who need constant care. They are subsidized.
Home care is supposed to be the real salvation. By subsidizing the cost of helping the frail elderly in their homes, the theory goes, governments will ultimately save money and old people will avoid being institutionalized.
That is the theory. Reality has been different.
First, home care was never seriously funded. In the late ’90s, the Mike Harris Conservatives rationalized Ontario’s crazy-quilt of home care agencies by creating so-called community care access centres to oversee them.
But the aim here was always to save the government money rather than fund a comprehensive scheme to let more old people stay at home.
Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals kept Harris’ emphasis on penny-pinching. The result, as outlined this week by Star reporters Theresa Boyle and Moira Welsh, has been a nightmare. Sick, old people are being literally booted from hospitals and sent home to receive care that never arrives.
Nor can they check into nursing homes. The wait lists are too long.
The retirement home scandal is part of the same pattern. Faithful readers of this newspaper will recall that Star reporters found old people, some suffering from dementia, lying in their own excrement at one retirement home last year.
This was taken — correctly — to underscore the need for regulation of these freewheeling institutions.
But the more serious problem underscored by that Star exposé is the lack of space in real nursing homes.
If nursing homes had enough beds, families would not have to park their elderly relatives in places, like retirement homes, that are ill- designed to serve those with serious needs.
For all of this, the McGuinty government is receiving deserved flak. It is not that the Liberals do nothing. They have acted — but usually only when goaded by the threat of bad publicity.
Otherwise, it’s hard to see that they take the problems of older people seriously. The government is willing to spend some money on the elderly. But the amounts are grudging and its priorities elsewhere.
What’s more disturbing is that the McGuinty government’s casual negligence may accurately reflect the mood of those whose votes the Liberals seek.
Queen’s Park could spend more on home care. But then it might have to forgo its plans for more corporate tax reductions. It might even have to raise personal income taxes.
Would middle-class, middle-aged Ontarians pay more in taxes to ensure that their parents lived their final years in some comfort? I’m not sure.
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