Several Ontario unions representing health-care workers are calling for a public inquiry into the province’s hospitals and long-term care homes.
The Ontario Health Coalition (OHC), the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU), the hospital division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and the Advoacy Centre for the Elderly (ACE) claim there have been growing waitlists for hospitals and long-term care, in addition to systemic discrimination based on age.
The organizations say in the last three decades, the province has cut 20,000 hospital beds. They say there are also 38,000 people on a waitlist to get into a long-term care home in Ontario.
In Durham, Peterborough and Lindsay there are nearly 12,500 people on a wait list to get into long-term care. The OHC says getting to the front of that line can take more than 11 years — the longest timespan in the province.
“They’re still beyond the lifespans of people on the waitlist,” said Natalie Mehra, OHC’s executive director.
“Most people might live two and a half years or so if they get into long-term care, so they’re impossibly long. And it’s not like their needs go away. Families suffer.”
Mehra says for families that can’t get into a home, many are forced to pay thousands of dollars a month for retirement home care or other types of private care.
“It’s been a plan by multiple governments to save money by not actually creating enough long-term care beds or hospital beds,” she said.
The OHC also says Ontario’s elderly have been facing discrimination, claiming many during the pandemic have been offloaded from hospitals into makeshift sites, hotels and even long-term care homes facing outbreaks.
“This kind of hospital diversion, not allowing long-term care residents and the elderly to access the hospital care they need, the long-term care they need, that continues,” Mehra says.
“It’s an ageism in planning, but it’s an ageism in attitude about the value of their lives. These are loved people; they matter.”
A spokesperson for the minister of long-term care says, “the work to modernize long-term care is underway with immediate staffing investments culminating in $1.9 billion annually to meet our nation-leading four hours, on average, of daily direct resident care, and $2.6 billion invested to create modern and safe long-term care spaces.
“Our government is fixing a broken system and making long-term care a better place for residents to live, and a better place for staff to work.”
Meanwhile, hospital workers are also calling for the public inquiry. Sarah Labelle, a medical technologist with Lakeridge Health and a representative for OPSEU’s hospital professionals division says the pandemic has highlighted existing hospital capacity issues.
“The occupancy should sit at 85 per cent for hospitals and because of successive governments and decades of cuts to our hospitals and beds, we routinely sit at 100 per cent occupancy,” she said.
“We saw that prior to leading into a pandemic. We were seeing people waiting for beds, waiting (for) days, waiting in emergency rooms and in closets, wherever we could put them.”
Labelle says hospitals can no longer turn to temporary solutions, like cancelling elective surgeries, to relieve capacity. She says new government policies that include more beds and increased staffing levels are necessary to lower the strain on hospitals.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission says they are in the process of studying the request for a public inquiry.
“The OHRC is in the process of studying this request carefully, and in the context of the investigation that the independent Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission is currently undertaking,” said media relations officer Adewonuola Johnson.