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Letter: Election presents rare chance to fix long-term care

'Not allowing seniors to choose an affordable alternative to LTCs begins the process of diminishing them by failing to respect their wishes'
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According to government reporting, more than 4,400 seniors have passed away in long-term care facilities (LTCs) due to COVID-19, and this number continues to grow.  

Perhaps there is no persistent public outcry because this situation is not hitting close to home for enough of us, or if it is, we feel powerless to change it.  Regardless, if there is one thing about life that is certain, if unfortunate, we will all age. Where do you want to spend your elder years?

The National Institute on Aging and the Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP) found that more than 95 per cent of seniors want no part of living in LTCs.  Despite this statistic, Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party has committed to expanding institutional care, promising 30,000 new beds and to redeveloping 28,000 more.  

Similarly, the Ontario’s NDP is committing to 50,000 new beds. The province’s Financial Accountability Office confirms that another $10.6 billion is needed to increase direct care for LTC residents and to expand and redevelop 30,000 beds.  This begs the question, “Whose interests are these parties serving?“  Apparently not seniors’. “They” deserve to be heard when it comes to deciding how they want to live.  “We” will all be seniors some day, and things will not change unless we act to sustain a high quality of life into our elder years.

There are proven alternatives to institutional care. Countries like Denmark have a cost-effective home- and community-based approach to helping seniors age the way they want, a choice to which each of us should be entitled. Cost?  In contrast to the funds needed for more LTC beds, about 60 per cent of Ontario’s $3.3-billion home-care budget (about $2 billion) is spent to assist 440,000 seniors living in the community today.

Not allowing seniors to choose an affordable alternative to LTCs begins the process of diminishing them by failing to respect their wishes. Other groups, such as those serving people with mental illness and developmental disabilities, are abandoning congregative models, yet we remain “stuck” with them for our elderly.  

PC, NDP and Liberal leadership are well-aware of successful alternatives, but with one exception the voices of seniors and advocacy groups such as Seniors for Social Action Ontario have been largely ignored.

In the past, I have voted for each of the four main political parties at different levels of government. I have focused my decision on the issues at hand, and so am not a “supporter” of any political party. This election, the Ontario Liberals’ platform presents the only option to help stop this mistake of congregating human beings in LTCs.  

Liberal leader Steven Del Duca stated, “the warehousing of seniors in LTC homes was one of the greatest mistakes of the past century.” The Liberal Party’s plan for seniors demonstrates the change needed by shifting the focus and priority away from institutional care and toward an affordable, home-, health- and community-based model of care.  

The Liberal Plan includes $2 billion towards home and community care over four years; fully funded clinical care for hospices; ending for-profit long-term care by 2028; allowing smaller shared home options instead of institutional care by designating new funding for LTC “beds” as “spaces” that do not need to be in institutional settings; 15,000 new assisted living in supportive housing options; zero tolerance for non-compliance of standards by LTC operators, and; raising the base rate for PSWs to $25/hour. 

Are there other important issues in this upcoming provincial election? Yes, but no other issue seems to set the parties as far apart as does quality of life as we age.  The choice seems clear.  If there was ever an election where the outcome could not only have an immense positive impact on the quality of life for all Ontarians, but also allow all of us to experience that impact in our own lifetimes, this could be the one.

Luciano Contini