Bill 7 frees up hospital beds at the cost of separating elderly couples

Dec 9, 2022 | Headlines, News

Catherine Fife, an NDP MPP from Waterloo, is lobbying for a bill that ensures elderly couples remain together when placed in long-term care.

“There’s this saying that love is patient and love is kind but Joan and Jim have run out of patience and what we are doing to seniors is certainly not kind,” Fife said.

Fife told Humber’s Et Cetera she was approached by 83-year-old Jim McLeod, of Cambridge, Ont. because he and his wife were placed in different long-term care homes.

McLeod was desperate to find a way to have his wife, Joan, placed on the same care campus as he was in. Fife said McLeod ran into barrier after barrier in his fight to be reunited with Joan, as the local long-term care authority put in no effort to try and reunite them.

Fife’s Bill 21 called “Till Death Do Us Part Act,” which addresses the provincial government’s Bill 7, “More Beds Better Care Act,” that transfers elderly patients from hospitals into long-term care beds up to 70 kilometres away — regardless of consent — in an attempt to free up severely limited hospital beds.

If a patient refuses to be transferred, this can result in a $400 per day fine.

Thousands of people are on waitlists for basic bedrooms in long-term care homes in the southern Ontario region alone, according to a fact sheet published by the Ontario Health Coalition, an advocacy organization for public health care.

“The separation has certainly taken a toll on both of them,” Fife said. “I’ve been on this journey with them and it’s been a painful one, but there’s been moments where you get some hope because you are getting through to some folks.”

Jim’s wife, Joan, has dementia and needs a higher level of care than he does. Fife told Humber’s Et Cetera that his wife is often angry at him because she cannot understand why they can’t be together.

“There is an ethical and a moral responsibility to take action to ensure that we don’t continue to separate seniors,” Fife said.

When Fife’s bill passed its second reading in the Ontario legislature on Nov. 15, she asked that the social policy committee begin the process of understanding.

This means experts and witnesses will be able to give advice on how the province can begin reunification of elderly couples who have been separated on different long-term care campuses.

She said this committee would “modernize the whole philosophy about aging with dignity and aging with compassion.”

Karen Henderson, CEO of the Long-Term Care Planning Network, helps families create plans for long-term care so that crises and separation can be avoided.

Henderson told Humber’s Et Cetera that long-term care is a “continuum” that starts in the home, then the patient moves into retirement-assisted living, then into a nursing home and then into the end of life.

“People who have been living together for 50 years should not be separated when they go into care,” Henderson said.

“It’s cruel,” she said.

Henderson said that when planning long-term care, people should factor this expense into their retirement finances.

“[Canadians] need to take responsibility for their own health and not expect the government to end up paying for what they assume the government will pay for,” she said. “It gets worse every year as more people need care and there’s less money in the system.”

“It’s time we stood up and told the [government] what we want and demand that people be placed at the centre of the wheel,” Hendersen said.

Long-Term Care Minister Paul Calandra defended Bill 7 during Question Period on Aug. 27. The decision to continue relocating patients to long-term care homes regardless of distance stands because he said experts believe long-term care homes provide better all-around care for patients than hospitals can.

“The reality is, there are 6,000 people in hospital beds who have been discharged and are looking for care somewhere else,” Calandra said during the question period. “Long-term care can be part of the solution for the first time in decades.”

In a Nov. 25 news release, the government said they’re increasing their funding towards building long-term care homes. This is an attempt to fast-track the construction of new long-term care beds before the end of August next year.

They plan to budget a total of $6.4 billion to create more than 30,000 new beds by 2028 and upgrade 28,000 across the province.