In summer 2009, author Lise Cloutier-Steele complained to the administrator of the long-term care facility in which her father resided that she had found his catheter bag full to capacity four times in the previous five weeks.
“If it happened when I was there, it probably happened just as much when I wasn’t,” Cloutier-Steele wrote in her 2010 book “There’s No Place Like Home: A Guide for All Caregivers,” which documents her quest for basic services for her aged father while he was in an Ottawa, Ontario, nursing home.
Cloutier-Steele, a frequent visitor to the home, regularly found other incontinent residents in soiled briefs, but was powerless to do anything about it. Nurses and staff were as scarce as hen’s teeth, and often of little help when they were finally located.
“On one occasion, I was fortunate enough to find a nurse on the floor,” Cloutier-Steele writes, “but when I told her about the resident in need, she said that she would have to wait because all the healthcare aids were on a break!”
Even more frustrating, Cloutier-Steele says she was “viewed as a troublemaker” if she complained about the negligence and abuse.
“I talked to other ‘troublemakers’ who visited the home as much as I did,” she says in her book. “Like me, these folks simply could not turn a blind eye to what happened to their institutionalized loved ones. Family members and designated guardians are only trying to make the best of a bad situation.”
Family members who complain risk retribution such as being denied access to their loved one. Three Ottawa women, for example, were slapped with no trespassing orders in separate cases in autumn 2017 after advocating for better care for their parents. My own visiting hours were restricted to between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. during the last 18 months of my mother’s life as punishment for advocating on her behalf. I too complained about poor hygiene, and, after Mom died, wrote an open letter to Quebec’s Minster of Health about the issue.
Clearly, not much has changed in the seven years since Cloutier-Steele published her book. In fact, they may have gotten worse. In 2017, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) in Ontario lobbied hard for legislative changes to LTC regulations.
Here’s what one 19-year care veteran, said of the dire situation at a November 1, 2017, news conference:
Candace Roddick, CUPE Ontario’s Secretary Treasurer followed, calling the situation “a crisis:”
Bill 33, called the “Time to Care Act,” would require “Every licensee of a long-term care home [to]ensure that the average number of combined hours of nursing services and personal support services offered at the home each day is at least four hours per resident.”
A step in the right direction to be sure, but so very much more remains to be done in Ontario, as well as throughout the rest of Canada, the US, the UK, and Australia. I am convinced that elder neglect and abuse are pervasive, persistent and systemic worldwide. It’s time to put a stop to it.