Province failing seniors in homes: advocates
TORONTO - With an Ontario election just months away, long-term care advocates are ramping up their attacks on the Liberal government and accusing Premier Dalton McGuinty of breaking his promise to spend more on the province's institutionalized elderly.
Those who work in long-term care, along with local governments which foot part of the bill, acknowledge provincial funding levels have increased since the Liberals were elected in 2003, but they say the increase falls far short of what was pledged on the campaign trail.
They complain of overworked staff, limited one-on-one care, the province's new legislation sets no minimum for hours of personal care, and creature comforts and activities that end up provided, at least in part, by volunteers and fundraising.
"Don't promise something you can't carry through on,'' Sheldon Wolfson, board chairman of the Ontario Association of Non-Profit Homes and Services for Seniors, said Tuesday.
"And the promise was made.''
In its "plan for change'' document issued ahead of the 2003 election, Ontario's Liberals promised to "invest in better nursing-home care, providing an additional $6,000 in care for every resident.''
Despite having had four budgets to meet the commitment, critics peg the additional amount at little more than $2,307 a year per resident. In many cases, local taxpayers are being forced to pick up the funding slack.
Simcoe County alone estimates its ratepayers are taking a $1.3-million direct hit for its 505 long-term care beds at four homes.
In March, the county passed a resolution calling on the provincial government to make good on its promise to the province's 72,000 long-term care residents.
Warden Tony Guergis said support for the resolution from dozens of other municipalities, including some large urban centres such as Oshawa and Oakville, has been "overwhelming.''
"We're looking to make the province accountable for what they promised to fund and the care they promised to give,'' said Guergis.
"It's a small amount of money, really, in the provincial budget.''
Overall, the government argues it has increased funding to the sector by more than $740 million, including raising the amount it pays to buy each senior three square meals and two snacks a day to $5.57 from $5.24 in 2003.
Health Minister George Smitherman defended the Liberal record, saying long-term care is headed "in a far better direction'' now than it was in 2003.
"We have delivered more staff, tougher standards, more frequent and effective inspections, more beds, better food, more staff training, enhanced participation of family and volunteers and whistleblower protection,'' Smitherman said in a statement.
"All of this and we are now spending almost $7,000 more per bed than when we came to office. ''
However, in an analysis of its own, Wolfson's agency, which represents 27,000 long-term care beds, concluded most of the extra money has gone to essentially administrative initiatives, rather than towards the direct care of residents.
"Are they a lot better off? No,'' he said. "Are they where they should be? Absolutely not.''
Conservative Leader John Tory said the funding would be an election issue.
"It speaks yet again to Mr. McGuinty's making of promises last time that he either didn't think through or that he never intended to keep,'' Tory said.
"That's a huge issue in terms of his credibility, especially when it relates to people as vulnerable as those who require long-term care.''