Former MP decries “horrendous” treatment of elderly

Christina Cortez reaches for her grandaughter’s hand through a window at the Sumac Lodge long-term care home on May 16, 2020. Denise Cortez brought a sign in Spanish reading “Granny I love you with all my heart” to show through the glass after her daily visits were halted by the pandemic. Troy Shantz file photo

Cathy Dobson  

Former Sarnia-Lambton MP Roger Gallaway is calling on local residents to rally behind the elderly living in Ontario’s long-term care facilities.

A letter writing campaign is needed to insist government invest in more staff and better living conditions for seniors, he said.

“More than 3,800 seniors have died in long-term care (during the pandemic) but there’s not really a lot of noise about it.”

In Sarnia-Lambton, 25 of the 47 deaths attributed to COVID-19 were residents of senior homes.

Roger Gallaway

Gallaway said he has heard nothing negative about the operation of local facilities but is concerned about what he calls a lack of empathy for the elderly in general.

“We don’t like to talk about aging,” he said. “All these seniors die in long-term care homes and it’s, oh well. People know that thousands have died and yet they are quite quiet.”

The pandemic has exposed “horrendous” conditions in many Ontario homes and highlighted deep staffing shortages, overcrowding and a lack of inspections.

So many long-term care residents and staff contracted COVID-19 during the first wave the Canadian Armed Forces had to be called in to help in some parts of the province.

“They reported back to the prime minister and the premier that there were bed bugs, cockroaches, soiled bedding, and unfed residents living in unbelievable conditions,” said Gallaway.  “It was a national disgrace.”

Premier Doug Ford has since announced $115 million to quickly educate and train up to 8,200 new personal support workers in Ontario colleges by this fall.

That’s a step in the right direction, said Gallaway. But it won’t do anything about older facilities, which often house four to a room and need to be modernized.

The provincial government must also improve regulatory oversight and step up inspections, he said.

Part of the solution may lie in home care, Gallaway added, noting Denmark “pours” money into caring for the elderly at home to reduce institutional living.

Improvement in elder care is urgent because 21% of Sarnia-Lambton’s population is over the age of 65, and that will dramatically increase over the next decade, he said.

“The bells are ringing. A lot of people are getting older and will need protection. We need to have a plan.”

He urged residents to press for provincial funding and more long-term care staff by sending written letters, not email, to MPP Bob Bailey (805 Christina St. N., #102, Point Edward, Ont. N7V 1A4) or Premier Doug Ford (Legislative Building, Queen’s Park, Toronto, Ont. M7A 1A1).

Gallaway was the Liberal MP for Sarnia-Lambton from 1993 – 2006 and is now a member of the advocacy group Navigating Senior Care Lambton (NSCL). He was guest speaker at a recent Kiwanis Club of Sarnia-Lambton Golden K event.

Ontario Long-term care numbers:

626 – number of LTC homes;

78,000 – number of LTC beds;

60% – are private, for-profit;

50% – residents over the age of 85;

90% – have a cognitive impairment;

60% – take 10 or more prescription drugs daily;

86% – need help with eating, toileting, getting out of bed;

14,972 – residents with COVID-19 in LTC to date;

3,878 – LTC deaths from COVID-19 to date.

Source: Ontario Long Term Care Association and Public Health Ontario.