February 1, 2023

By: Annamarie Fuchs, Creator

Partners in Health: Conversations.

The youth can walk faster, but elders know the road.

African Proverb

 

“I want to move to a long-term care facility when I get old…” said nobody EVER. This isn’t meant to be a criticism of those people and organizations that provide long-term care and yet it is. This isn’t meant to be an indictment of the governments, current or past, that did virtually nothing substantive to strengthen long-term care from a policy and a funding perspective over the last several generations and yet it is.

I am personally acquainted with and have worked alongside many remarkable people who are dedicated to improving the delivery of stable, qualified, caring, and consistent care to older and disabled adults in Canada. I know there are barriers that some days, seem almost insurmountable as they try to make the changes they know are essential. I also know that in our last 100 years, caring for our older parents and disabled family members has been a responsibility that, over time, has been simply relinquished to institutional care.

Our culture has gradually evolved to the point where we are convinced that we need more and more long-term care beds. To be frank, if there weren’t so many institutions, public and private available to us, we and government would be forced to find other means to ensure our elders and disabled receive the care they need. Governments would have to vastly increase funding for home care. They would have to consider providing funds in the form of tax advantages to families to enable them to develop and maintain living spaces on their properties where possible. And they would be obliged to offer subsidies or living wages to people who would love to quit their jobs to care for their aging parents.

And yet here we are. This week we are watching news about the release of ‘non-mandatory’ long-term care guidelines. We are hearing that some provinces can and will opt out of actioning those guidelines. And we will continue to watch family members speak to the media in frustration and anger at the poor-quality care their loved ones receive when they are themselves, are either unable or unwilling to fill the gaps that we have known for more than a generation exist in the provision of care.

Like I said at the introduction to this article, I doubt that anyone plans or hopes to enter a long-term care facility when we are old, frail, or disabled. And somehow, whether we’ve seen these facilities or not, we all know instinctively that by moving into one, we will experience almost unimaginable loss. We will lose our dignity and our hope, and even on occasion, our cognition as we move into a single room with a door that in most cases won’t lock and where our meals, our activities, and our entire days are planned for us. And to add insult to injury, we may even be housed in communities away from long established social networks and possibly even separated from our life partners.

So, how can we demonstrate to the world that Canada appreciates, respects, and honors our elders? We need to listen. We need courage. And we need to revolutionize every single policy and piece of legislation associated with elder care and care for our disabled. We need to insist that our governments (federal and provincial) change funding formulas so that long-term care facilities stop becoming massive corporate entities that pay wonderful dividends to shareholders and where understaffed and under resourced publicly funded facilities offer less than basic services to the people who built this country for you and for me.

We need to accept that WE, the voting and working public have to demand though our own actions, that attitudes toward older adults in this country must change. We need to begin the hard work of creating a culture where we are not only expected to provide care to our elders wherever possible, but we recognize that caring for our elders and disabled is an opportunity to give back. When we become parents, we are expected to provide love and care to our children. When our children are not adequately cared for, they are taken away from us. And yet somehow, that same societal expectation that requires us to provide safe and loving care for our children has been lost in our collective discussions about how our elders and our disabled should receive care.

I understand that many of us believe that we have been doing our best to ensure care for our most vulnerable elders and yet most of us continue to arrive at the conclusion that there will come a time when long-term care is our only option. Perhaps in some cases that’s true. But in most cases, it’s not. That is a myth perpetuated through social evolution where institutionalizing the elderly and the disabled has become the most accepted solution for what is perceived as an onerous problem to be solved. However, I am confident that if governments would withhold funding where the delivery of long-term care is found to be anything less than excellent and qualified, where adequate, affordable, and qualified home care is easy to obtain, and where innovative social policies are created that offer funding to assist us to take on greater responsibility for our older loved ones, many of us would do exactly that.

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