Ontario is discriminating against seniors living in care homes by kicking them out of hospitals | #healthcare | #elderly | #seniors
The irony was rich. On the same day that Ontario’s auditor general slammed Premier Doug Ford’s government for its cavalier treatment of nursing home residents during the pandemic, that same government announced it will continue to discriminate against seniors.
Health Minister Christine Elliott announced Wednesday that the government has given itself the power to arbitrarily kick elderly patients out of hospital to make room for other — presumably younger — people.
Those removed from hospital will be sent to long-term care or retirement homes — with or without their consent.
This is just the latest indignity levelled against older people who have had the temerity to require health care during this crisis.
Last year, during the first wave of the pandemic, the government dealt with seniors by ignoring them. In her report, Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk says that nursing homes were singularly unprepared and the government singularly uninterested.
Then, as now, the government focused on hospitals. Nursing homes were treated as convenient places to dump patients that the hospitals couldn’t — or wouldn’t — help.
Sometimes, hospitals simply refused to admit nursing home residents who required health care. Sometimes, they made space by arbitrarily discharging elderly patients.
As Lysyk’s report notes, the result was to increase the risk of COVID-19 infection faced by nursing home residents and staff.
An example: In March 2020, the auditor general’s report says, 761 patients were transferred from hospitals to nursing homes. That’s well above the usual figure, which had been averaging 508 transfers per month.
The effect, Lysyk’s report says, was to make a bad situation worse. The transfers “added more pressure to the homes, some of which were already struggling to contain the spread of COVID-19.”
It was one of the reasons why the death toll in long-term care homes was so high. More than 15,000 nursing home residents were infected with COVID-19. Of these, 3,919 died.
Yet the government appears to have learned nothing. It weeps crocodile tears when it talks of Ontario’s seniors. But it continues to offer them second-class status with regard to health care.
Most Canadians have the right to seek hospital treatment. Nursing home residents do not. Some are simply not admitted when they show up at the emergency department. Instead, they are advised to seek help from their retirement or long-term-care home.
Others are grudgingly admitted to hospital. But they are often treated as second-class patients — bed blockers who take up valuable hospital space that could be better used by the more deserving.
It is this second group that Elliott has taken aim at. Her order does not cover all patients. She is not suggesting that hospital care be denied to just anyone.
Rather she is zeroing in on those eligible to live in nursing homes — that is to say on older people.
None of this is to suggest that the status quo is perfect. Faced with a looming shortage of intensive care unit hospital beds, the government is within its rights when it shifts patients around without their consent.
But only if it treats all patients — young and old — equally. Elliott’s latest order does not pass this test. Like so many government actions on the health care front, it is designed to penalize those whose only sin is to be old.
CORRECTION: In my last column, I wrote that the word pharmacare does not appear in the April 19 federal budget. In fact, it does appear on p. 238, where the budget says the government will “directly engage with willing partners on national universal pharmacare alongside other important health priorities.”