Shift in care for seniors from hospitals to retirement homes

Legislation to enhance the powers of private retirement homes is in the final stages of approval at Queen’s Park despite the lack of public debate. Once again, Premier Dalton McGuinty and the Liberals are making major changes to health care without the requisite discussion and in the face of legitimate objections.

The new law will allow private retirement homes to self-regulate, medicate residents and become de facto long-term care facilities, according to critics.

The Ontario Health Coalition, a health care watchdog group with a chapter in Northumberland, said Bill 21 will fundamentally change how retirement homes operate, including  adjustments fundamentally affecting the human rights of the elderly.

Ontario’s Minister Responsible for Seniors Gerry Phillips said consultations were held with 800 groups and individuals, all supporting the legislation. This comes out of concerns over regulation of privately run retirement homes where there were horror stories of resident neglect, abuse and lax standards of care appearing in the press.

It appears the bill gives private homes the ability to provide medical and nursing care similar to those in provincially-regulated long-term care homes and even hospitals.

Critics include the NDP, who have tried to put forward some 92 amendments, where all but one were rejected. Besides the Ontario Health Coalition, the Ontario Retirement Communities Association has also come out against the legislation.

With the inability of the Central East Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) to find long-term care beds in our community, the legislation is even more disturbing.

The LHIN recently announced it is providing one-time funding to keep 11 long-term care beds at Northumberland Hills Hospital, reversing an earlier decision to close the beds. No figures were released as to the total cost of keeping the beds and meeting staff requirements.

What is terrifying is that this one-time fiscal shot in the arm may be just enough time for the Liberal’s new bill to pass, opening the door to a transfer of long-term patients from the hospital into local private nursing homes.

In light of concerns raised by critics and a lack of public discussion, the legislation could leave families and patients in situations that might be a lot less than ideal. By placing them in unregulated environments, the question of quality of care is front and centre. No doubt, the better private homes will meet provincial standards. But, the less scrupulous homes may try to cut corners.

As the baby boom generation ages, the pressure on senior care will only explode. There are 628 retirement homes across Ontario housing 43,00 residents. Statistics Canada released a study last week saying the population of seniors could grow to more than 47 million by 2036.

But, Northumberland County residents should not be shocked. It is another in a long string of failures by the Liberal government and local officials to properly manage health care. The debacle over the hospital’s budget, the lack of transparency and open dialogue with the community, the handwringing by Northumberland MPP Lou Rinaldi and the recent flip-flop on long-term care only go to demonstrate the chaos.

Efforts by local citizens groups, like the Citizens for Alternative Solutions and the Northumberland Chapter of the Ontario Health Coalition, cannot be ignored by the hospital administration, the hospital board, the LHIN and the MPP. The hospital should not be allowed to dump seniors into improperly regulated homes. Slipping through major legislation to further privatize senior care – affecting some of the most vulnerable people in the system – should not be done this way.  They deserve more at the end of their lives, not less.