Golden Plough, seniors need more than respect

First published:
Feb. 13, 2002

The departure of Carol Shaw, administrator of the Golden Plough Lodge, on Jan. 31 is certainly sad. Many people will miss her, but, more importantly, Northumberland County lost a respected, knowledgeable advocate for seniors.

While the reasons for her leaving are complex, no doubt a large part must be the frustration Mrs. Shaw feels. The support she got from county council over the years was like a rollercoaster. People like former Alnwick Reeve Flex MacMillan were powerful champions. But there were times when it was not enough to get all the money needed.

Prison inmates are funded better in Ontario than seniors. The province spends $60 per day for each resident in long-term care. Residents contribute about $40.  But, it will spend $136 a day to house and feed inmates in provincial jails, according to the Ontario Association of Non-profit Homes and Services for Seniors.  This group represents the 170 non-profit homes in Ontario, a majority operated by municipalities like Northumberland.

A study released last September by Pricewaterhouse Coopers, ranked Ontario lasting the care it provides in its nursing homes compared to nine other places in Canada, the United States and Europe.

All it would take would be a stroll through the halls of the Golden Plough to see the impact. Mrs. Shaw was a compassionate, sensitive soul. To witness the suffering of residents and their families must have been taxing. Add to this the administrative problems identified by the recent county staff report, and no one can blame her for leaving

In one of her final interviews, Mrs. Shaw delivered a pointed critique. Her parting words should be considered carefully.

As she pointed out, the level of service is dropping steadily. At one time, nurses could help a senior to the washroom and supervise them. Today, it is easier to put them in diapers because of a lack of staff.  There is no dignity in any of this – for the nursing staff or the patients and their families.

And, Northumberland seniors in the Golden Plough need more intensive care than ever before. Because nursing homes are far cheaper than keeping seniors in chronic care hospital beds, the province saves billions by pushing them out the door and into the municipally funded nursing homes.

Certainly, the province can argue it has invested heavily in long-term care. In April 1998, it announced $1.2 billion to open 20,000 new beds for long-term care. But two-thirds of these beds have gone to for-profit companies, not publicly funded non-profit operations like the Golden Plough. Like it or not, long-term care in Ontario is being privatized despite all the rhetoric about keep a public health care system.

For those who are aging, this has to be a worry. In fact, a recent IPSO survey found 61 per cent of Ontarians are concerned about the affordability of long-term care. More than half now believes they will have to put aside saving just to have decent long-term care at the end of their lives. No doubt, this is beyond the retirement saving programs already in place.

The Golden Plough was set up to provide services to aging residents in Northumberland who could not afford private care. Long before nursing homes became big business, there was a role for the county. Obviously, as a community, we felt a strong need to look after our seniors. While the intent is not gone, we must realize where we are failing.

County council must move beyond the traditional finger-pointing. Certainly it must become an effective advocate on behalf of local seniors. But it must also look at what can be done within its own budget. Staffing must be a high priority.

Minimum standards must be set for care. This means ratios of nurses to patients to ensure proper care is provided. If the province won’t set any, then the county can adopt its own. Taxpayers must put pressure on all levels of government to make sure this happens.

If we don’t, there will be a two-tier system of care, one for the rich who can afford private nursing homes and one for those who cannot. Those will be left to municipalities to run. It will be left to local politicians to face the outrage.

This must also become part of national debates on health care. While many will argue against a two-tier system, it appears it already exists when it comes to nursing home care.

Northumberland seniors deserve special attention from all of us. They are the most vulnerable members of our community. Often they suffer silently and that is unconscionable.

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