Most anyone who knows me or reads this column can be certain that I truly appreciate the honour the people of Algoma-Manitoulin have shown in me by re-electing me as the MPP for this riding. As well I freely admit that this is without question the best job I’ve had in my lifetime. There are two main reasons for the joy I feel in fulfilling my duties as MPP. First is that it provides me unparalleled exceptional opportunities to meet and get to know so many wonderful people, professionally and personally. And second, each and every day is another opportunity to learn something new.
One of my most treasured relationships that I enjoy is with the many First Nations communities in Algoma-Manitoulin. Their sense of community, honour and respect for people, the environment and the natural elements have had a great impact on my outlook on life and my ability to appreciate the value of all people.
In particular, I am astounded by the very high regard and respect than many Indigenous cultures have for their senior populations. While most people call older citizens seniors, Indigenous cultures tend to refer to them as Elders as an acknowledgement of deserved respect. Too often society fails to recognize the contributions, values, experience and wisdom that our older citizens bring to our world. On the other hand, overall, Indigenous cultures see their Elders as noble icons and carriers of valued knowledge and wisdom. Indigenous societies have tasked their Elders with teaching their youth the elements, traditions and values of the culture they most revere. This teaching begins in childhood and continues at deepening levels for a lifetime.
In the last while I have spent a lot of time hearing about and working on issues involving how we care for and regard the elderly in Ontario. To say the least, despite all of our good intentions, as a society our record is far from stellar. If you are not sure what I am referring to, just pick up a few recent papers or search of recent headlines online and you’ll see so many. There are reports such as scamming, fraud, neglect, and physical and mental abuse. It’s enough to make most of us just shake our heads and wonder how and why this happens.
In the last week of July, the results of the Public Inquiry into the Safety and Security of Residents in the Long-Term Care Homes System(aka the Wettlaufer Inquiry) were released. The 1500 page report focussed on safety, security and systemic vulnerabilities in long-term care homes. The report made dozens of recommendations to improve the way we ensure that our vulnerable and elderly citizens are safe and well cared for.
Following the release of the report, Dr. Marilee Fullerton, the Minister of the newly formed Ministry of Long-Term Care, has promised that the Conservatives will spend the next year to develop a plan to address the issues and subsequent recommendations. However, there was no commitment to a date to implement such plans nor any commitment. There was no mention of how many registered nurses and staff would be needed to provide the necessary care and security. There was no commitment from the government to address the identified needs. The only real commitment she made was to say they would table a study by next summer.
Readers of this column will recall the piece on political guarantees a couple of weeks ago. Well here is a good example of a hollow guarantee.
Many readers will recall that the NDP has been calling for the long-term care inquiry to be expanded into a second phase for quite some time. An inquiry is needed that would go beyond the mandated focus on what allowed these heinous acts to take place. A second part to the inquiry would examine conditions in seniors care — from nutrition to staffing complements, training and more — and how that significantly impacts residents each and every day. Such a push from the NDP is strikingly similar to Gillese’s recommendation 85, which calls for a study on staffing levels on each shift to be tabled in the legislature by July 31, 2020, and for funding to be increased to match its findings.
With the vulnerabilities identified by this inquiry, imagine how vulnerable seniors in care are to violence, or unintentional neglect. Of much greater importance is proper staffing and adequate funding protects our loved ones from resident-on-resident violence, from medication errors, and from falls.
Just this week Andrea Horwath was in Ottawa where she released government memos detailing changes by the Ford Conservatives. The memos from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care reveal that Ford is cancelling the High Wage Transition Fund, which helps pay for staff wages, and the Structural Compliance Premium fund, which helps keep long-term care homes up to modern standards. The two cuts amount to more than $34 million being ripped out of long-term care homes annually. Two funding streams for long-term care are being eliminated by Doug Ford, taking millions of dollars away from care homes — but even as those cuts threaten to make life even less safe, healthy and dignified for seniors in care, the Ford government is hiking the fees residents pay by about $500 a year.
Andrea said, “For any of us with a loved one in long-term care, we know underfunding has real consequences. It means our loved one doesn’t always get the help they need to brush their teeth and get dressed in the morning. It means they could ring a call bell to get help to make it to the washroom, but be left waiting until it’s too late. And it means there are fewer staff to prevent falls, or even violence in long-term care homes.”
It’s clear that we owe our parents and grandparents in care better than they’re getting today. Needless to say, the day to day lives of Ontario’s seniors, on the whole, would be so much safer, secure and more enjoyable if our province, on the whole, listen to these lessons Indigenous peoples have been sharing for centuries.
As always, please feel free to contact my office about these issues, or any other provincial matters. You can reach my constituency office by email at [email protected]or by phone at 705-461-9710 or Toll free 1-800-831-1899.