NDP health critic agrees province needs to live up to promises for long term care

GORE BAY—The only way to make long term care concerns known is by making those concerns heard, said MPP France Gelinas, NPD health critic, at a roundtable discussion about long term care held at the Manitoulin Lodge last week. She and Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Michael Mantha are also in favour, and eager to present a petition that the local family council and others in the province have had signed, calling for the number of paid hours of nursing and personal care per resident be increased immediately, and from the current 2.8 hours of care to five hours by January 2015.

“As the NDP health critic, when new health policies come out I study them and get briefed on them,” Ms. Gelinas told the gathering of about 40 Lodge residents, staff, family and concerned citizens. “I am here tonight to listen to your questions and concerns and provide some answers.”

“It is so hard to shine a light on long term care (LTC),” said Ms. Gelinas. “On the sexiness scale (LTC) is on the bottom. You never see it on TV or on the front page of newspapers; it is hard to engage people in a discussion on long term care as a lot of people don’t know much about it.”

“The only time you hear about LTC is by having open communication like we are doing tonight. Unless you speak loudly and have petitions outlining your concerns and what you want to see it is hard to move forward,” said Ms. Gelinas. “The Ontario Long Term Care Association and the Family Councils of Ontario are powerful and the message you are all delivering makes sense. The petition requires written responses from the government and I’m more than willing to take this to Question Period and have Mike (Mantha) bring the petition forward in parliament.”

“This is an awesome turnout here tonight which is a strong indication of your interest in the critical issues in long term care,” said Linda Willson, chair of the Manitoulin Lodge family council. “All the input, comments and suggestions we provide will be taken back to Queen’s Park.”

Ms. Willson said she had been encouraged by the chair of the North Bay Family Council, Shirley Robinson, to put together the petition. “The Liberal government had promised in 2008 they were going to provide the funding needed to increase nursing and personal care per resident from 2.8 hours per day to four, but they have not met their promise. It is extremely urgent that this take place (and be increased to five hours by January 2015), and all family health councils in the province have done petitions to make Premier Kathleen Wynne aware of the issues.”

About 300 signatures are on the local petition, said Ms. Willson. She noted the petition also calls for the establishment of a licencing body, such as a college, that will provide registrations, accreditation and certification for all personal support workers in Ontario.

“My mother lived here in the Lodge and was provided excellent care,” said Ms. Willson. “In that time I saw how hard the people here work, they work really, really hard, but are woefully understaffed. They do an amazing job, and need more support, and that is why we are advocating for them.”

Debbie Wright, administrator of the Lodge, noted that Ontario ranks ninth of 10 provinces in terms of the total per capita funding allocated to long term care and, “On behalf of the Ontario Long Term Care Association (OLTCA) our goal is to provide Ontario’s seniors with the care they need when aging at home is no longer an option. However, our long term care homes are not doing the same work today as we’ve done in the past. We’re caring for residents with unprecedented levels of multiple chronic conditions and acuity. Ninety-two point eight percent of new residents have two or more chronic illness, such as diabetes, COPD and chronic heart failure. We are working harder than ever before to reduce isolation and provide safe, quality care.”

“To deliver safe, quality care, we’ve asked for just under $200 million across Ontario for investment in resources and care to meet the needs of our current residents,” said Ms. Wright. “We need resources to match the increasing complex care needs, to avoid costly emergency room visits due to specialized resident care needs, preventable injury or end of life care,” continued Ms. Wright. “Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care data shows that there are more than 30,000 Ontarians waiting for long-term care placements and wait times have tripled since 2005.”

“We’re committed to offering the right care in the right place at the right time for Gore Bay/Manitoulin seniors. It is our goal to provide all seniors with the safe, quality care they need when aging at home is no longer an option,” said Ms. Wright. “The success of Ontario’s aging at home strategy is shifting the needs of Ontario’s long term care residents. We believe that resourcing a better link between long term care and seniors in the community and primary care will contribute to our seniors’ ability to age safely at home. Manitoulin Lodge has opened two convalescent care beds to provide appropriate, quality care to those in the community who need time to recover strength, endurance and health before returning home.”

“We are looking for the government to be more accountable to the health care system, and to keep their promises,” said Mr. Mantha.

“We know we have a huge portion of our population who are baby boomers and require more care,” said Ms. Gelinas. She said the government has known for years this would be the case, but “what did they do to get ready for this? Not a whole lot. We used to have 75,000 long term care beds in the province and in the past two years they have built another 2,000, but there are still 30,000 people waiting for beds.”

Glenn Black said, “Ontario graduates 7,000 PSWs a year, but 9,000 leave the profession, so we are working on a deficit every year. And if we go from 2.8 to four hours of care per day per resident, where are we going to get the people from?”

“How do we make sure PSWs stay in their jobs? You do this by making them good jobs,” said Ms. Gelinas. “What makes good jobs, reasonable shifts, pay that allows them to live, benefits, and the hope of a pension.”

It was mentioned by one person at the meeting that the hours of some staff are being cut by 10 hours a week. However, Ms. Wright explained, “Our funding is based on the level of care. The more care required for a certain resident, the more funding is allowed.” Funding is based on documentation which is reported quarterly. It sets the standard for funding, of and reflects high or low level of care.

“Our long term care facilities obviously need more funding, to provide for more care,” said Linda Bowerman.

Tom Sasvari