RTOERO Advocacy Issues
Long-Term Care and Human Rights
The number of long-term care Covid-19 cases in the second wave has surpassed the number in the first wave by approximately 50%. And it has been deadlier. From January 1 to February 9 there were 5,824 LTC residents and staff infected and 962 deaths. (OHC, Feb.17, 2021) Many of the deadliest Covid-19 outbreaks in long-term care can be traced back to preventable error and staff shortages. Now the Covid-19 vaccination program is rolling out and most long-term care residents have received at least the first dose of the vaccine. Does that mean that the long-term care crisis will soon be over? Sadly, the answer is no.
There are several Covid-19 variants spreading across the province and proving to be much more infectious than the original virus. The efficacy of our vaccines against emerging variants remains to be seen.
But more importantly, the conditions in our long-term care homes that allowed Covid-19 to spread and kill so savagely are still the same. Until those conditions ar
e rectified, long-term care residents will continue to suffer and die, if not from Covid-19 and its variants, then from repercussions of the horrific conditions that have existed in long-term care, well before the pandemic.
Dr. Tamara Daly, Director of York University Centre for Aging Research and Education, has done extensive international research on long term care. in a recent RTOERO webinar entitled, Rights of Older Persons: Support, Ratify, Demand Now, Dr. Daly points out the impact of staffing shortages on the quality of care. Because of staff shortages, in many LTC homes there are simply not enough staff to feed and bathe people. PSWs are working in horrible conditions and many are forced into part time work. Also, because staff are overwhelmed, the relationships that are important to maintaining the dignity and happiness of residents are not established. Ontario’s very complicated long term care system with both public and private ownership and so much contracting out of services, leads to less transparency and accountability from those whom Dr. Daly calls “bad apples.” Dr. Daly advocates for public not-for-profit long term care homes which are more transparent and accountable. Profit taking is associated with poorer quality of care and buildings in disrepair. Dr. Daly says that public funds should not be going to privately owned long-term care homes. Approximately 60% of LTC homes in Ontario are private-for-profit homes. She is critical of the Ontario government which has received a lot of federal money but has directed very little of it to front-line long-term care workers. Both Quebec and British Columbia have done much better after the first wave to train and employ additional PSWs and pay them more. Dr. Daly also articulates a need to address gender equity in front line health care. LTC staff are predominately women. Their work is undervalued and underpaid even though it requires a high level of skill.
Recently Premier Ford announced that Ontario will adopt a 4-hour minimum care standard as advocated by his long-term care commission. However, Ontario would not commit to implementing it until 2024-25. The timeline is so long that it is meaningless for the people who are suffering and dying in long-term care now.
Dr. Daly is advocating for national long-term care standards to replace the patchwork approach across the country. She sees a need to confront ageism which is rampant in long-term care. This attitude likely accounts for the entrenched reluctance to fix a system that is obviously rife with injustices.
Margaret Gillis, President of the International Longevity Centre Canada, has called the horrors in long-term care human rights abuses. In the same webinar, she explains that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been expanded over time to include conventions to protect the rights of groups such as women, children, and persons with disabilities. Gillis says that now is the time to call for a convention on the rights of the older person. This pandemic has shown the necessity of such a convention. Human rights must be seen as life-long rights but they need to be grounded in convention if they are to be enforced. A convention would provide a stable complaints mechanism, not dependent on governments, and therefore able to provide accountability and continuity. The International Human Rights Council would have the authority to respond to complaints and issue recommendations.
Asked what we can do now to support their work and recommendations, both Dr. Tamara Daly and Margaret Gillis advised that citizens must DEMAND better accountability from ALL levels of governments. We must fight against ageism which is pervasive in our culture.
Both insist that we have to demand a complete overhaul of the LTC system. Gillis says that we must start screaming for change. We have to get the attention of politicians. It is only through political will that the changes will be made that can truly save lives. Suggestions include contacting the premier, the ministry of long-term care, federal and provincial representatives, and making sure that all know that what is happening in long-term care is an election issue. The District 3 website has a link to a personalized copy of the RTOERO form letter that members can send to elected representatives. Long term care residents are unable to advocate for themselves and many community members are still unaware of the conditions. Thankfully we have front-line care workers who, with the support of their unions, have spoken out to enlighten the public. Many unions have campaigns to reform Ontario’s LTC conditions including establishing minimum care standards. ONA, CUPE, CARP, UNIFOR and the SEIU Healthcare Union are some organizations with information and/or campaigns (including petitions) to improve long-term care. We can become involved in these campaigns and those of health care advocacy groups such as Doctors for Justice in Long Term Care and the Ontario Health Coalition, another grassroots group that has long advocated for reform in LTC.
These organizations and others have websites that you can find with a quick google search.
And of course, each one of us has the right and responsibility to vote. When we do, we can keep long-term care front of mind. Vulnerable seniors need us to step up for them. And SCREAM.
Submitted by Marie DellaVedova, Political Advocacy Representative
A Humanitarian Crisis – Here in Ontario
A humanitarian crisis is unfolding here in Ontario, one that could have been prevented. If thousands of children had died in institutions during the course of this pandemic, the institutions would have been closed down and criminal charges likely would have been laid. But the majority of deaths have been seniors in long-term care homes. And little has been done to quell the growing numbers of infections and deaths in long-term care. During the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic the International Longevity Centre for Canada reported that 82% of all Covid-19 deaths in Canada occurred in long-term care homes. It was reported that death rates were especially high in private for-profit long-term care homes. Despite accounts of negligence, in Ontario not one long-term care home has been fined. Not one long-term care home has lost its license.
Now, as predicted, the second wave is becoming worse than the first wave. Our friends and family members living in long-term care homes continue to get sick and die in ever increasing numbers. Those who are in desperate need of hospitalization may be unable to access a bed as many hospitals in the province are reaching ICU capacity.
Reports of insufficient care have been the norm in Ontario’s long-term care homes for decades. Last year the Armed Forces provided a disturbing assessment of intolerable conditions in long-term care homes. There has been inadequate action to address the inhumane conditions and the growing number of deaths. This is undoubtedly a reflection of a most heinous form of ageism. Covid-19 has made it clear that Canada needs a national not-for-profit plan for long-term care homes with national standards and processes for robust accountability.
For years there have been calls for a four-hour minimum care standard in Ontario’s long-term care homes. The recent response of the Ontario government to institute such a policy, but only in several years, is not helping our vulnerable seniors now. The vaccination process has begun but so far, the roll out has been dreadfully slow. According to Dr. Samir Sinha, Director of Geriatrics at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, speaking on January 4th, there are presently 100,000 doses of vaccine, 71% of the total, waiting in freezers. They will do no good until they are administered.
In order to increase resident care and infection control we must increase staffing levels and the use of appropriate PPE. We need more personal support workers (PSWs). They are the backbone of our long-term care system. They are overworked, underpaid and leaving the profession in droves. The government could begin a serious recruitment drive for PSWs specifically for long-term care. It could pay them for fast tracked training and provide them with full time work and improved wages and working conditions. Quebec did that and has greatly increased its long-term care staffing levels.
On January 3, 2021 the province reported Covid-19 outbreaks in 207 long-term care homes and a total of 1,140 confirmed active cases of positive residents. With 2,781 resident deaths in Ontario long-term care homes, it is time again for military intervention. It is also paramount that the 500,000 vaccines that will have been delivered to Ontario by the end of January be administered right away. Every missed opportunity is a potential loss of life.
District 3 Algoma is a branch of the Retired Teachers of Ontario (RTOERO). As a seniors’ group we consider health care a priority. We are concerned that Covid-19 cases are dramatically increasing in our district just as they are across the province. District 3 RTOERO implores the Ontario government to act immediately to stop the rising number of Covid-19 cases in long-term care homes and the mounting death toll among long-term care residents. Not to do so will fuel speculation that seniors are considered expendable in Ontario.
Political Advocacy Representative, District 3 RTOERO
RTOERO Long Term Care Advocacy Form
RTOERO’s 3 Advocacy Issues
Letter to the Minister of Long-Term Care, Ontario from RTOERO
Click the document to download / view.
RTOERO has identified three advocacy issues this year
The three issues are: A National Seniors Strategy, Environmental Stewardship, and Geriatric Healthcare.
A coordinated seniors strategy is necessary to remove barriers to seniors’ independence and to the essential role seniors play in vibrant, healthy communities and economies. There is a need for a national seniors strategy that will tackle the gaps that exist in health care and social policies. That will require dedicated funding and accountable goals to meet the changing needs of seniors who are Canada’s fastest growing demographic. Challenges include income security, universal public pharmacare, social isolation and aging at home.
It is important for us to maintain the viability of our ecosystems for ourselves and for future generations. We must improve in all areas that are critical to a sustainable future. That includes a responsible use of resources, conservation and protecting our air and water. Everyone has a part to play in environmental stewardship-individuals, companies, industrial groups and governments. Challenges include a ban on single-use plastics, common recycling standards, environmentally-sustainable transportation and safeguarding the water supply and drinking water.
Geriatric Healthcare: Physical and Mental Health for Older Adults
Canada’s population is aging. In 2020 more than one in six Canadians is now a senior. By 2030 it will be nearly one in four. Our health care system, which has tended to address acute care needs, has had less focus on home care and community care. The rising needs of the growing senior population means that our health care system and social systems need to develop ways to address the new reality in order to meet those needs.
Challenges include geriatric training, healthy aging, long-term care and elder abuse.
If you would like more information about RTOERO’s advocacy issues please go to the website: www.vibrantvoices.ca.
There you can also add your voice to the voices of fellow RTOERO members in urging government to improve the tragic conditions that presently exist in long-term care.
Click the Summary Sheets, below, to view/download.
Below are the complete booklets for each Advocacy Issue.
Click to view/download.