Province needs strategy to fund ‘systemic’ housing crisis for vulnerable seniors

Posted on July 24, 2017 in Inclusion Policy Context – Opinion/Editorials – Ontario’s government has ignored “systemic” problem of dangerous, unlicensed senior care homes. It needs a strategy to provide proper care and housing for the vulnerable
July 24, 2017.   By

Far too often in Ontario seniors and those with mental health issues are forced to live in deplorable conditions, deprived of the care they need. It’s a deeply troubling reality.

Equally troubling is news that Ontario is so unprepared to deal with this deepening crisis and the systemic problems that underlie it that provincial health-care workers and community organizations are sometimes the ones responsible for placing elderly people in these dire situations.

Reports last week of the province turning a blind eye toward unlicensed care facilities suggest they will only proliferate, placing more people at risk. Ontario cannot ignore this problem any longer. It’s time to come up with a fully funded strategy so seniors and people with mental health issues will no longer have to suffer the indignity of living in unbearable conditions.

The dire situation reported on by the Star prompted the province’s response, highlighting $5 billion earmarked for affordable housing improvements since 2003. That funding, however, lacks a clear commitment by the government to address the “systemic” problem of unsafe living conditions in senior care homes where people are forced to stay because there are often no alternatives.

This year Ottawa committed $4.2 billion to Ontario in targeted health-care funding for home care and mental health initiatives over the next decade. Advocates such as CARP, which works on behalf of seniors, want funding in Ontario used to train more senior support workers. They also want money for better housing infrastructure and a safety and oversight regime to ensure those in care are being treated properly.

The current situation is clearly untenable.

As the Star revealed, last year the Ontario Provincial Police conducted a probe, after receiving complaints, which found seniors at two unlicensed Scarborough facilities living in conditions that included: strong odours of human urine and feces, bedrooms with mattresses on floors and multiple residents, mouse feces and dead mice. There were inadequate food supplies and some of the workers were unlicensed.

The Star’s Betsy Powell and Kristin Rushowy reported that investigators said similar residences are a “systemic” issue across the province.

But, with no alternative housing, not only are vulnerable seniors being referred to such facilities by health-care workers, they are being kept in these dangerous, often illegal, places because of a failing provincial system that has nowhere else to put them.

Taylore Hald, commander of the OPP’s health fraud investigations unit, wrote that enforcing laws these unlicensed facilities are breaking would mean removing vulnerable people with no other options.

“It’s not acceptable,” said Toronto Mayor John Tory in response to the news, for people to be living in “deplorable, unsafe, unhealthy conditions like that.”

But as Tory rightly pointed out, it’s the provincial government’s responsibility to find and fund a solution, not municipalities’, many of which are still struggling with the cost of public housing, downloaded onto them by the province in 2000. Referring to the need for “some alternate form of accommodation” for seniors and residents facing mental health issues, Tory said it’s not going to come from the “Toronto zoning enforcement office.”

So far, the provincial Health and Long-Term Care Ministry’s response is a commitment of $45 million to provide 1,150 units for those with “serious mental illness or addictions who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless” over three years.

That investment would no doubt be welcome, but it would barely begin to address the need. As the province grapples with the challenges of a rapidly aging population, and seeks to make the most of Ottawa’s targeted contribution, it should waste no time in developing and articulating a comprehensive plan.

The ministry says it “is constantly striving to make Ontario the healthiest place in North America to grow up and grow old.” But right now, for too many seniors and Ontario residents suffering mental health problems, this is not a safe, healthy place to live and grow old. That’s a disgrace.

And things will only get worse if our government continues to ignore this growing crisis.

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