'It Is a Failure on Many Levels': Ontario Failing to Adequately Support the Elderly, Critics Say
With thousands of people on waiting lists for long-term care beds in this region, you might expect a new long-term care home in Ottawa to bring some relief.But the Ontario government's move to approve a new facility in the city's west end without adding a single new bed to the mix is drawing criticism and frustration from doctors. It offers a glimpse, they say, into how the province is failing the elderly and not dealing with a growing health-care crisis."It is a failure on many levels," said Dr. Nadia Alam, president-elect of the Ontario Medical Association. "They are building a new long-term care facility. They can increase the number of beds and they should have, but that didn't happen. They built the exact same number of beds even though they know that is not enough."The issue is that the provincial government is in the process of approving a new long-term care home in Stittsville to replace an old one in the city's west end. The province has prioritized replacing some aging homes with modern ones. But that new Extendicare West End Villa will be built without adding new long-term care beds to the region. It will go from 240 to 256 beds, but 16 of those bed licenses will be transferred from other long-term care homes, resulting in no new beds."All of our long-term care homes in the city have a waiting list and we endeavor to place residents in our homes as soon as a new bed becomes available," Extendicare said in a statement. It described the new Stittsville facility as state of the art.Long-term care beds are licensed and funded by the province.In the Champlain LHIN, the regional health authority, there are about 7,500 licensed beds in about 60 homes. About 3,500 people are on waiting lists to get a bed in those homes.The backlog of people waiting for long-term care beds - mainly the frail and ill elderly - along with a backlog in people waiting for home care, is seen in overcrowded hospitals. Dozens of patients are in local hospital beds because they have no suitable place to go, part of the issue that has caused local hospitals to cancel surgery on several occasions since the beginning of the year and has left patients in hallways and emergency rooms waiting for beds.Ottawa is not the only place dealing with the issue; it is part of the picture across the province and one that is increasingly worrying to many.Ottawa palliative care physician Dr. Paul Hacker says he too was baffled why the province wouldn't take the opportunity of a new build to relieve some of the waiting list pressure."I just can't believe we are not going to take the opportunity to improve the lives of people sitting in hospitals for months and months," Hacker said.The province has a home-first policy when it comes to care for the aged, which means staying in the home when possible is considered the best option for the elderly. The problem, critics say, is that it has not properly funded home care - in the Champlain LHIN, 4,250 people are on waiting lists for services. Critics also note that some patients require long-term care. Increasingly, say long-term-care officials, their patients are sicker than they once were and require more complex care.A spokesman for the provincial Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care said, in response to a question from the Citizen: "At this time, there are no provincial programs for the creation of new long-term care home beds."David Jensen added that the province is working closely with local health integration networks "to monitor the need for LTC home beds throughout the province on an ongoing basis and are currently examining future needs ... and planning accordingly."Chantale LeClerc, CEO of the Champlain LHIN, says there are likely people on long-term care bed waiting lists who would prefer to stay at home if they could. "I don't think we have gone far enough in terms of offering alternatives. There is more we can do to offer services in the community to keep people at home."There has been progress, she said. "We have come a long way. There have been significant investments in our region with innovative programs that have made a huge difference."Among other things, there is a program that gives high-risk seniors access to a health worker 24/7 who can come to their home. More than 600 seniors are using the program.But economist Don Drummond, with Queen's University's school of policy studies, says Canada is nowhere near where it should be when it comes to funding to help seniors remain in their homes. Not only do most seniors want to stay home, he said, but it makes economic sense. A hospital bed costs about $1,000 a day, a long-term care bed costs around $200 and fully supportive home care costs about $100, according to Drummond.He said Canada should look to Denmark, which ranks among the top places in the world for care of the elderly. The Danish made it illegal to create any new long-term care beds, he said, which forced them to put major investments into helping people remain at home. In Denmark, home care includes everything from health care and personal care to shovelling snow and mowing lawns.Money is not an obstacle to doing the same, he said, since home care is such a relatively inexpensive option. "Money is not the obstacle, the only thing is the governance.""I have never seen a survey that hasn't shown people want to stay in their homes. It is what people want."Alam agreed there needs to be a significant investment in home care, but said there would still be a demand for long-term care."While it is great to try to keep people at home, you can't get away from the fact that some people are just too complex to stay at home."