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Gélinas joins fight to reunite elderly couple separated by long-term care system

Nickel Belt MPP calls on LHIN to consider mental health when assessing 'in crisis' long-term care placement

Rick Levesque said during 69 years of marriage, his parents have never been apart until their health failed them. Now Rick and his sister, Lucille Ouellette, feel Ontario's long-term care system is failing to help keep them together.

After falling out of bed in December 2018, 87-year-old Bertha Levesque ended up in hospital. A few weeks later, her husband, Rhéal, 88, was hospitalized for severe pneumonia. 

As a result to the fall, Mrs. Levesque developed dementia and needed 24/7 care. Not being able to care for their mother themselves, Ouellette and Levesque agreed long-term care was the best option. The sibling's preference was for Mrs. Levesque to move to Finlandia Village, but a bed opened at Extendicare Falconbridge first.

They were told "if we didn't take the bed, they would have to send her back home and there's a three-month waiting period."

"She needed 24/7 care and we aren’t trained for that," Ouellette said. "We couldn't take care of her ourselves." 

So, Bertha was placed at Extendicare in January 2019. The next month, Mr. Levesque was placed at Finlandia Village.

"(Finlandia) is where we wanted mom and dad to be together," Levesque said. "Her dementia is more progressive than his. That's why we are trying to get them back together while they can still remember each other."

Levesque said his mother's health continues to deteriorate, and she is afraid to leave her room and refuses to eat. She misses her husband, the siblings said.

"Every time we go there, she says, 'When am I going to see dad?' and we have to tell her 'Mom, we don’t know. We are doing our best to get you guys back together'."

The Levesque's story is similar to another Sudbury couple who spent six months apart in 2018. Gottfried and Hildegard Adler were reunited at Finlandia in March 2018 thanks to a push from New Democrat health critic and Nickel Belt MPP France Gélinas. A provincial regulation, new in 2018, puts a priority on reuniting family members who have been separated, setting aside beds in long-term care homes for that purpose.

But Gélinas said despite the new regulation, there are still 37 couples in the Sudbury area at risk of never being reunited because they don't fall under the "in crisis" criteria set by the North East Local Health Integration Network (LHIN).

"There is a crisis in Sudbury for long-term care," Gélinas said during a press conference held at Finlandia on Feb. 21. "There are many more people needing long-term care ... so they created this waitlist that they call 'crisis.'

"There are so many people [on that crisis list] that nobody else gets to move into a long-term care home."

Gélinas said the current criteria only takes a person's physical condition into account when declaring someone in crisis. She’s calling on the LHIN to also take mental health into consideration.

"An 87-year-old who refuses to leave her room and who refuses to eat is in crisis," Gélinas said. "She wants to be with her husband of 69 years because she worries about him and after 13 months apart, she now feels worthless."

Gélinas said the LHIN is reluctant to reassess the situation, but she hopes a directive from the Long-Term Care Minister Merrilee Fullerton will help.

"The minster agrees that they can do this. There is nothing in the law that prevents the LHIN from taking into account the mental anguish," Gélinas said. "If the LHIN doesn't change its way about the crisis waitlist - they will die apart."

Siblings Oullette and Levesque refuse to give up hope. 

"Finlandia told us from the beginning 'We have a place for her. Just get her in the door and we'll take care of everything'," Oullette said. "As soon as the LHIN let her leave, the two of us are taking her out of there and bringing her here."

"They've never, ever been apart until their health failed them," Levesque said. "And now they miss each other terribly."


Heather Green-Oliver

About the Author: Heather Green-Oliver

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