By ALI RAZA, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Ontario NDP released a plan to improve long-term care in the province while expanding culturally appropriate options as the aging population increases.
Party and official opposition leader Andrea Horwath, alongside Scarborough Southwest MPP Doly Begum, held a virtual press conference on Oct. 21 to announce the party’s plan, dubbed “Aging Ontarians Deserving the Best.”
It calls for an end to wait time for seniors receiving long-term care while committing to 50,000 new long-term care spaces.
“COVID-19 revealed a disaster behind the walls of long-term care homes,” Horwath said in the conference. “We need to fix these systems for good.”
As a result of the pandemic, 1,800 seniors in long-term care have died, the Ontario NDP said. In the conference, both Horwath and Begum made the case that problems with long-term care, while stemming from before the pandemic, were accelerated as a result of it.
They were also joined by Yee Hong Centre for Geriatric Care founder Dr. Joseph Wong and TAIBU Community Health Centre manager Phil Johnson, who advocated and applauded the NDP’s plan to bring culturally responsive care to a growing diversity of seniors.
“Right now, the demand for culturally appropriate care for seniors is so much greater than what is available,” Wong said. “It will take more support from the provincial government to change that.”
What they mean is care with respect to the individual’s cultural background, which pertains to language, diet, activities, and other specific needs. Not-for-profits such as Yee Hong and TAIBU are examples where seniors can receive tailored care in a language they speak, and with the cultural supports they require.
Johnson, who works in community services and systems change at Scarborough-based TAIBU, said the centre welcomes the NDP’s commitment in their long-term care plan.
“When we bring culturally responsive care and services to seniors in the community, it supports their health and well-being,” he said.
While seniors have to wait six to 10 months for a spot in a long-term care facility, seniors waiting for culturally appropriate care are often on the waitlist for six to 10 years.
Ontario’s last census (2016) listing the most-common non-official-language mother tongues showed thousands of Ontarians spoke Italian, Mandarin, Cantonese, Spanish, Punjabi, Tagalog, Portuguese, Arabic, German, and Urdu, among several more. It’s an indicator that an aging population in the province comes with a diverse range of languages, not to mention cultural practices and norms.
Horwath thinks the current system is a kind of “institutional warehousing” of seniors that serves as a “one-size-fits-all” strategy.
“It erases people’s culture, language, and identity,” she said.
The NDP plan, in a nutshell, aims to overhaul home care to allow people to live at home longer, make all LTC public and not-for-profit, build smaller family-like homes, staff facilities with full-time, salaried caregivers with improved training, make family caregivers partners, create culturally responsive care, clear the wait list, and guarantee better protections.
The Ontario government spends a total of $9 billion per year on long-term care and home care, split $4.6 billion and $3.2 billion, respectively. Of that total, $645 million is spent in community support, and another $375 million is spent caring for seniors in hospital beds, awaiting long-term care or home care.
The Ontario NDP wants to invest $750 million a year, for eight years to end the waitlist, providing support directly to municipalities, and not-for-profit and other public sector organizations. That’s $6 billion in capital investments.
In addition, operating costs – currently $9 billion – are set to increase in the plan by five per cent a year for six years, until operating funding is $12 billion in 2028.
- Ali Raza is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Beach Metro News. His reporting is funded by the Government of Canada through its Local Journalism Initiative.