Time to take long-term care off the backburner

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Earlier this month, a local consulting firm contacted the Times about the issue of long-term care. They had been hired by two area long-term care homes to lobby for better provincial funding, and wanted to make sure that voters are thinking about long-term care ahead of the provincial election. With that election now sneaking up tomorrow, voters are faced with the heavy task of weighing candidates’ stances on many different issues, and processing all of the pros and cons of each candidate into one suitable person for whom to cast a vote. 

It may be time to stop worrying solely about funding long-term care, and move toward thinking about it differently. I have visited two long-term care homes in my life. The first was when I was a youth, and I was visiting an elderly relative. What I saw that day was not something I was expecting. Even as a teenager, it bothered me to see how my relative’s room was set up. The walls were grey and bare. The room was shared with another resident, had very little natural lighting, and not much room for personal effects. It was a bed and a small TV, which reminded me of a hospital. This was only one experience, at least a decade ago, but that one visit forever shaped my view of long-term care. It is not an assumption that all long-term care homes are the same as the one I visited which shaped my view, but rather the realization that this one particular home met standards, and that the living environment was considered acceptable. 

The other long-term care home I visited made me feel somewhat better, though I only visited the common areas, not the residents’ rooms. I work in an elementary school, and I created a program (pre-pandemic) wherein small groups of children would visit this long-term care home once per week to play board games with the residents. Of course, the residents loved the opportunity to socialize, particularly with the young children, but sadly, such recreational programs were the only socialization many of the residents got. Absolutely none of the blame for this falls to the system or to staff, and all of it falls to the families of these once respected and loved family members. 

My mom was a PSW for decades before retiring. She did mostly home visiting, but would occasionally have long-term care homes to visit on her daily routes. One particularly haunting story she told me was the situation in long-term care homes in the years when she would have to work on Christmas Day. Residents would ask her to bathe them and dress them in their nicest clothes in anticipation of Christmas visits from family. These visits almost always didn’t occur, and excitement would turn to sorrow for these residents by the end of the day. 

Do we need better funding for long-term care in Ontario? Absolutely! Education and childcare receive far more attention than long-term care, and that must change. However, if we are ever to truly take long-term care off the backburner, we first need to find a way to engage families once again. Social events and smiling staff are wonderful, but will never be a match for the hug of a grandchild or a discussion of “old times” with family. Promoting the simple idea that a valuable life doesn’t end after age 65 is thus the challenge that lies ahead. All hands on deck – caring is free. 

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