Health Coalition says home care at risk

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Alex Kurial/Local Journalism Initiative

The Ontario Health Coalition is making a final push to stop the provincial government’s impending Bill 175.
The Connecting People to Home and Community Care bill is set to have its third reading in the provincial legislature this week.
The OHC says the bill would privatize home care treatment and effectively end any meaningful oversight in the industry.
“Home care is going to be fractured all across Ontario, with different providers providing different services,” says Shirley Roebuck, chair of the OHC’s Chatham-Kent/Sarnia-Lambton chapter. “The current home care bill has public oversight provisions but those are taken away in the new bill.
“Bill 175 … has been hastily written and is being pushed through the legislature,” Roebuck says. “We hope that the government will see the error of their ways and withdraw this bill… and rethink home care and community care and have meaningful public input into it.”
But health coalition groups aren’t hopeful that will happen. Roebuck says despite repeated attempts the OHC has not received any response from the provincial government about its concerns. The Ford government has continually denied that Bill 175 will be a pathway to privatized home care.
“There’s no democracy at all. We’ve not had a response from the Ford government at all,” Roebuck says.
This includes a letter the OHC sent to the government two weeks ago asking for fixes to long term care issues. The letter was co-signed by 200 organizations representing more than two million Ontarians. The province didn’t respond to it either.
“There is a huge population telling Mr. Ford ‘we don’t want you to touch home care, we want you to fix the long term care problems.’ It isn’t just a local issue or a tiny number of people.”
The OHC says that the COVID-19 crisis has laid bare the existing issues in Ontario’s homes.
“Mr. Ford, when he gets up and talks about COVID-19 and the nursing homes, he looks very concerned and his demeanor is appropriate. But the problem is that his words have not translated into actions,” says Roebuck.
She says despite all the information that has come to light regarding care levels in long-term care, such as staffing shortages and a lack of inspections, there has been no concrete action to address the problems. Only one long-term care home has had its license revoked in Ontario.
The province also expects a commission to begin studying the system in July.
“We are grateful for the support and protection they provided to our long-term care home residents in the midst of our fight against COVID-19,” says Health Minister Christine Elliott.
While the lack of care given in some homes revealed by the Canadian military shocked many, groups like the health coalition say there have been problems in long term care for decades. Just months before the pandemic was declared, the group was pointing to the lack of personal support workers in long term care which may have be part of the reason COVID-19 struck nursing homes so hard.
Almost 80 per cent of the people who died of COVID-19 were residents of long term care homes.
The conditions inside of nursing home have increased calls for the province to deal with the situation. It has also led to a number of lawsuits being filed against private corporation which run some of the hardest hit nursing homes.
That’s why another bill making its way through the provincial legislature is raising concerns for the health coalition.
The OHC, as well as legal experts and law professors, say Bill 161 – dubbed the Smarter and Stronger Justice Act – would limit the ability to bring class-action lawsuits against private companies in charge of long term care. Bill 161 is also up for a vote this week.
Roebuck still has hope the bills won’t pass. But either way she says the OHC will continue to fight for seniors’ care.“We will keep advocating for public health care, public health care services, and safe long term care. We’re going to be a watchdog for these supposed improvements they’re making.”
“We’ll keep reminding the public what the government has done, or has failed to do,” says Roebuck.