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Invest in long-term care says Wilson

(Queen's Park Report -- July 21, 2008) I was very pleased last week that Ontario’s Ombudsman, Andre Marin, decided to launch an investigation into how the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care monitors our long-term care facilities. 

Without question, long-term care is one of the biggest issues that I deal with in my constituency offices.  There is such a huge waiting list to get into local homes that most seniors are forced to travel out of their home communities to find space.  In fact, it is so bad that one of the attending physicians in one of our local nursing homes can not even get his own wife in.  

I have received so many complaints that I recently wrote to the Minister of Health to plea for urgent action to build more beds in our area and his response was less than satisfactory.  His solution was to consider building some new beds outside of our riding which doesn’t help my constituents very much.

This is in stark contrast to my days in government when we approved and built 20,000 new nursing home beds.  In fact, we were building so many beds back then that Liberals at the time criticized us for overbuilding.

The other side of this issue is certainly what the Ombudsman is reviewing with regard to standards of care.  Many readers will recall when former Health Minister George Smitherman famously appeared on the front page of a major Toronto daily newspaper in December 2003 showing him crying over photographs of a 15 centimetre-long gangrenous bedsore that had killed one nursing home resident.

At the time, Minister Smitherman promised a “revolution” in long-term care and said that he would make fixing the system his top priority.  It has now been almost five years since that famous interview the results of that promise are definitely questionable.  

The associations representing long-term care homes have repeatedly called upon the Liberal government to provide the $330 million additional dollars per year so that they can provide our seniors with the best care possible.  Sadly, their pleas have fallen on deaf ears.
Part of the problem is that there are 400 provincial standards that the staff in our nursing homes have to comply with and it seems as though every time there is an incident the government just creates more regulations.

I visit nursing homes in our riding regularly and I know that the staff makes every effort to make life as comfortable and pleasant for the residents in their care.  It is my hope that Ombudsman will recommend a pairing down of those regulations and bring some common sense into how these homes are run.

As one local nursing home administrator explained to me, if a resident spilled his juice then a staff person would have to go and get a clipboard and file a report on the incident before they can go to get a mop.  That’s just silly and it is why the government ought to review and prioritize the standards.  At the same time, we need to ensure that there is absolutely zero tolerance for the most important infractions, like ensuring enough baths are given per week and ensuring that nobody is forced to sit in their own waste for hours without care.

Access and standards concerning long-term care requires the government’s urgent attention and it is my hope that Premier McGuinty will act now to provide more funding, build more beds and review standards of care even before the Ombudsman issues his report in 6 months.

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