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Letter: There are alternatives to institutional care

Not allowing seniors to choose an affordable alternative to LTCs begins the process of diminishing them by failing to respect their wishes

To the editor:

As we come closer to returning to normalcy during this pandemic, the fate of seniors in Long-Term Care (LTC) facilities has faded into the background.

We may not all be aware that shamefully, this trend continues. According to government reporting, more than 4,400 seniors have passed away in LTCs due to COVID, and this number continues to grow. Perhaps there is no persistent public outcry because this situation is not hitting close to home for enough of us, or if it is, we feel powerless to change it.

Regardless, if there is one thing about life that is certain, if fortunate, we will all age. Where do you want to spend your elder years?

The National Institute on Aging and the Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP) found that more than 95% of seniors want no part of living in LTCs. Despite this statistic, Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party has committed to expanding institutional care, promising 30,000 new beds, and to redeveloping 28,000 more.

Similarly, the Ontario’s NDP is committing to 50,000 new beds. The province’s Financial Accountability Office confirms that another $10.6 billion is needed to increase direct care for LTC residents and to expand and redevelop 30,000 beds. This begs the question, “Whose interests are these parties serving?“ Apparently not seniors’. “They” deserve to be heard when it comes to deciding how they want to live. “We” will all be seniors someday, and things will not change unless we act to sustain a high quality of life into our elder years.

There are proven alternatives to institutional care.

Countries like Denmark have a cost-effective home- and community-based approach to helping seniors age the way they want, a choice to which each of us should be entitled. Cost? In contrast to the funds needed for more LTC beds, about 60% of Ontario’s $3.3-billion home care budget (about $2 billion) is spent to assist 440,000 seniors living in the community today.

Not allowing seniors to choose an affordable alternative to LTCs begins the process of diminishing them by failing to respect their wishes. Other groups such as those serving people with mental illness and developmental disabilities are abandoning congregative models, yet we remain “stuck” with our elderly. PC, NDP and Liberal leadership are well-aware of successful alternatives, but with one exception the voices of seniors and advocacy groups such as Seniors for Social Action Ontario have been largely ignored.

In the past, I have voted for each of the four main political parties at different levels of government. I have focused my decision on the issues at hand, and so am not a “supporter” of any political party.

Are there other important issues in this upcoming provincial election? Yes, but no other issue seems to set the parties as far apart as does quality of life as we age. The choice seems clear. If there was ever an election where the outcome could not only have an immensely positive impact on the quality of life for all Ontarians, but also allow all of us to experience that impact in our own lifetimes, this could be the one.

 Luciano Contini