by Pauline Kerr
The province has a plan to open up more beds in our hospitals – force the “bed blockers” out and into nursing homes, against their will when necessary.
The prospect of a person awaiting placement in a nursing home of their choice, being sent hours away to one where there is a vacancy, for the weeks or months until a bed in the home of choice becomes available, has just become very real, and quite alarming.
What the province is calling a plan to free up beds, is being called by others a cruel violation of rights, not to mention a futile effort to find a quick, simple solution for a very complicated and decades-old problem.
More often than not, the “bed blocker” – compassionately called an “alternate level of care” patient these days – has no desire to remain in the hospital; they want to go home. And sometimes they could, if appropriate home care were available – which it probably is not, especially in a rural area. The next best bet would be a friendly, well-run long-term care facility close to family and community supports – the kind of place that has a waiting list of months or even years.
Instead, they could find themselves far from home, with no family or friends to advocate for them, in the kind of place that tends to have immediate vacancies for a range of reasons, few of them good.
Why? Not because they are hogging hospital beds, but because of the abysmal lack of home care in the province, combined with far too few long-term care beds and lack of oversight of those there are – and the real problem, far too few nurses in both hospitals and long-term care facilities. The lack of beds is not the issue; it is the lack of people to care for those occupying the beds.
Successive governments of all stripes in this province have known there would be a problem when the “bulge in the hose” known as the post-war baby boom hit retirement age, but did nothing, apart from chipping away at hospital budgets while coming up with cute quips about “doing more with less.” One way of accomplishing this was replacing hospital beds with home care – the rationale for closing most of the province’s mental hospitals decades ago. Except the necessary home care system did not, and does not exist.
No government planned for replacing the experienced nurses and doctors who would be leaving the workforce in large numbers about the time the need for them was growing.
No one planned for COVID. Everyone knew there would be a pandemic; it was only a matter of when.
Everyone knew time would inevitably take its toll on the generation that fought for places in crowded universities and colleges, struggled to find jobs in a buyer’s market, and somehow raised their families, paid their taxes and worked hard to support their communities.
Now they have a choice – get shipped off to a long-term care facility against their will, or pay a huge sum to stay in hospital. Of course, there is always option three – MAID -medical assistance in dying.
The answer to poor government planning – actually, the lack of any kind of planning – cannot be violating the rights of the province’s most vulnerable citizens. All that does is make voters ask who will pay the price for the next “perfect storm,” which is shaping up to be economic.
There must be answers that include compassion and respect of rights – not just the rights of the healthy and wealthy, but the rights of all of us.
This provincial government has a couple of more years to figure it out before voters get their say once again. However, there is a municipal election only weeks away.
Both health care and housing will be major issues in this election despite the fact that neither is traditionally a municipal responsibility. Any municipality wanting to attract investment and growth had better be able to offer good health care and a range of affordable housing.