Ontario won’t move hospital patients on waiting lists for nursing home beds into other long-term care facilities against their wishes, says Long-Term Care Minister Paul Calandra.
Moving to allay fears that transfers could be made to nursing homes not on a patient’s preferred list of choices — and possibly away from their loved ones — Calandra said legislation proposed last week to free up rooms in hospitals wouldn’t force anyone to be relocated.
“We will not move people without their consent,” Calandra said Monday under pressure from opposition parties at the legislature.
“It simply does not work unless we involve the families, unless we involve the patients … it is the patients who will have the opportunity to grant final consent.”
Premier Doug Ford’s government is hoping to free up an additional 2,500 hospital beds in the event of a winter surge of flu and COVID-19 as hospitals face a crunch such as temporary emergency room closures caused by staffing shortages brought on by the pandemic.
As part of that strategy, legislation introduced last Thursday would allow for elderly or chronic patients no longer requiring acute hospital care to be moved into other nursing homes if doctors indicate they no longer need to stay in hospital.
The backlog of elderly patients in hospitals awaiting nursing home beds is a long-standing problem in Ontario known as “alternative level of care” beds. Ford’s Progressive Conservatives have been trying to ease the problem with announcements of new, expanded and modernized nursing homes.
Critics maintain the legislation would put undue pressure on patients and their families.
“Cruel doesn’t even begin to describe it,” said New Democrat MPP Wayne Gates (Niagara Falls). “This bill seeks to send seniors out of their communities to homes with open beds.”
Some could be in homes with high rates of illness and death from COVID-19, which killed more than 4,000 long-term care residents as the highly contagious virus spread rapidly in close confines, Gates warned, noting 79 nursing homes still don’t have air conditioning in all resident rooms despite the summer heat.
Dr. Adil Shamji, a former emergency room physician who was elected the Liberal MPP for Don Valley East in the June 2 provincial election, said the legislation comes with almost one-third of Ontario’s 626 nursing homes experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks in residents and staff.
“We have staffing shortages that are even more acute in long-term care than they are in acute care (hospitals),” he told reporters.
“We’re asking seniors to jump out of the frying pan and into the fire by forcibly sending them to long-term care.”
Calandra said the plan could free up hospital beds if suitable long-term care homes with appropriate supports, such as dialysis or dementia care, can be found for patients on an interim basis until a bed opens up in their preferred long-term-care facility.
Without the legislation, the moves would not be as likely to happen, he added.
“It allows us to continue conversations (about moving a hospital patient to long-term care) that would otherwise have been stopped,” he added. “What are their preferred homes? If that’s not available, what are the moves that might be around that area?” Calandra said.
“We’ll be working with residents’ councils, family clinicians, hospitals and residents to ensure that the regulations, in fact, keep residents as close to their homes of choice as possible, and close to their family, friends and spouses.”
Seniors seeking a long-term bed, often with the help of their families, fill out forms naming several nursing homes where they would prefer to live. Waits can take weeks or months. When a bed in one of their preferred homes opens up, they are offered a room.
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