What can be done to ensure long-term care residents and their families feel heard and respected?

As FCO members know, the decision to place a loved one into a long-term care home is not an easy one. When the time comes, it is critically important to consider the impact of transitioning to a long-term care home and to ensure that residents and their families feel heard and respected. Unfortunately, aging individuals are institutionally marginalized by society and can be left feeling isolated and unloved. Canada is not immune to this tragic fact. It took the coronavirus health crisis to show that our system has ignored and neglected long-term care home residents for far too long. While staff at most long-term care homes try to accommodate their residents, we have seen recent examples during the pandemic of an unacceptable level of disregard for basic human dignity as a result of a lack of staffing and funding. These problems can be magnified at culturally specific homes where factors such as lower funding, language barrier and lack of culturally inclusive foods and other products further amplify this issue. While useful in some cases, the implementation of a long-term home care action phone line isn’t sufficient to address the countless issues that arise on a daily basis when providing care for our elderly. Writing to the ministry or contacting the patient ombudsman can address some of those issues, but more needs to be done to ensure that residents and their families feel heard and respected.

During the heights of the pandemic, we saw how many of our loved ones in long-term care homes were left to their own devices because of a lack of staff or funding. With many of the centers undergoing a COVID outbreak, visitations were stalled and there was no way to contact residents for long periods of time, many of whom passed away due to prolonged lack of medical care and neglect. We need to recognize that caring for the most vulnerable members of our society should be prioritized and given the precedence it deserves. We should also be reminded that neglect is a type of abuse as well. Even the most dedicated LTC employees can be overworked to the point of not being able to provide the quality of care needed. This cannot be an option as failing to provide the proper care to the frail can lead to tragic consequences. The solution starts with providing a proper level of staffing at all times. This means more funding at the federal, provincial, and municipal levels. More funding leads to higher wages that will attract the most qualified candidates to care for our loved ones. We’ve all worked jobs at some point in our lives that we resented because we had no other option. Caring for our elderly should not be one of those jobs. Community integration is needed to support our loved ones and those who have no one outside of their immediate caregivers in their long-term care homes. Regular social interactions can make all the difference in the world in providing an emotionally healthy life for long-term care residents. To be heard and respected, voices of long-term care residents and their loved ones need to be amplified by advocates working in the field, and they need to be part of the conversation in the rebuilding of the broken long-term care sector post COVID in a manner that offers them self-determinism and dignity.

Author: F.T. (FCO Placement Student)