Advocates Asking the Human Rights Commission for a Ground-Breaking Probe

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Advocates asking the Human Rights Commission for a ground-breaking probe into years of systemic ageism in Ontario’s health system are urging Sault Ste. Marie residents to get behind their call for an inquiry.

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 Advocacy Centre for the Elderly (ACE) say this type of landmark public inquiry on human rights discrimination against the elderly in access to and levels of care in hospitals and long-term care is necessary following the death of nearly 4000 nursing home residents from COVID-19, in Ontario, in the last year.

Over the last three decades as the population grew by 4.5 million and aging, Ontario governments have pursued the most radical hospital downsizing of any province in Canada, cutting 20,000 hospital beds. At the same time, the province rationed access to long-term care resulting in a wait-list of more than 38,000 mostly elderly Ontarians. In Sault Ste. Marie alone, wait times for long-term care homes range from 124 days to 2,088 days (5.7 years). An average of 16 people move into LTC each month. There are 349 people on the wait-list.

The Sault Area Hospital routinely runs at over 100% capacity. Patients are crowded into emergency rooms, creating enormous pressure for the elderly to be transferred out to wherever they can find a space, regardless of the safety and appropriateness of their care.

Across Ontario, more than 2,200 mostly elderly people – deemed alternate level of care (ALC) patients, “often derisively referred to as bed blockers were offloaded from hospitals into makeshift sites. These patients who may have multiple complex chronic medical conditions, are moved to non-hospital sites and in some cases hotels, where staffing levels and care are lower. The elderly are often infantilised and treated as though their right to care is lesser than others,” says OCHU’s Michael Hurley.

Across the province, only a small percentage of long-term care residents with COVID-19 were hospitalized prior to their deaths. A recent study found that only 22.4% (1 in 5) LTC residents who died with COVID-19 were hospitalized. This compares to 81.4% (4 in 5) people who lived in the community.

“The culture of hospital diversion for long-term care residents carried through the first wave and second wave. The older the resident, the lower the rate of hospitalization,” says the OHC’s Natalie Mehra who called the failure to provide access to needed care for the elderly the cruel result of these long-standing discriminatory policies.

A human rights inquiry into Ontario’s systematic discrimination against the elderly in access to health care is long overdue say OHC, OCHU/CUPE, ACE in a letter (http://bit.ly/OHRC-letter-210316) to the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

“COVID-19 has shone a harsh light on Ontario health care’s systemic ageism in the treatment of the elderly. Four bed ward rooms, understaffing, lack of PPE, failure to hospitalize residents. But the policy choices that got us here are decades-old and must stop,” says Jane Meadus with ACE.

Today the advocates also urged the provincial government to immediately ensure everyone gets the hospital and long-term care they need free from discrimination based on age. They also called for a stop to the transfer of ACL hospital patients to non-hospital facilities.