Extendicare Preston

Fullerton: My vision for better long-term care in Ontario

Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, MPP for Kanata-Carleton and Ontario’s minister of long-term care, talks about her vision to The Ottawa Citizen.

"I envision a system where couples who have spent their entire lives together can stay together while receiving the care they need. I see retirement homes and long-term care homes partnering to be more integrated as people transition between modes of support."

Before I was elected to the Ontario legislature, I spent almost 30 years practising medicine as a family doctor in Kanata. During this time, I witnessed the challenges inherent in Ontario’s long-term care system. Like many other people across the province, I have experienced first-hand the long-term care system with my own family.

We all have a family member, a loved one or friend who has needed long-term care, and many of us will one day need it ourselves. We will all be touched by it in some way.

Unfortunately, the reality of long-term care in Ontario is that homes are operating at 98-per-cent occupancy, with 34,000 people on wait lists. This unmet demand has created pressures in hospitals, caused hallway health care and left many Ontarians feeling unsupported.

The wait for a placement in a long-term care home is 154 days on average – that’s almost half a year that a family member or loved one is waiting for a safe place to call home, and in some cases it’s even longer. Ninety-eight per cent of long-term care residents are long-stay residents; only seven per cent of residents are under the age of 65; and approximately 66 per cent of residents have Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

‘Compassion,’ ‘community,’ ‘responsive’ and ‘resident-centred’ are not buzz words to me.

The numbers are jarring, and improvements need to be made. Our most vulnerable people deserve a sense of dignity, a place to call home and to receive high-quality care. Sadly, the previous government did little to improve long-term care in Ontario.

With an aging population, ensuring that our long-term care system provides Ontarians with the support they need, when they need it, is a top priority for our government.

We have already invested $72 million more this year than last year in Ontario’s long-term care system – money to support more beds, nursing and personal support care, and programs and services for residents and families. We are also investing $1.75 billion to create 15,000 new long-term care beds and upgrade an additional 15,000 older beds to modern design. In just over a year, we have already allocated half of those beds.

To help seniors remain at home for longer while receiving a high level of care and reducing strain on hospitals, our government also invested an additional $267 million in home and community care.

Our work has just begun. As minister of long-term care, I am working to build a system that focuses on residents and a place our province’s most vulnerable can call home. To achieve this, we need to work together to the change the way long-term care works in the province.

I envision a long-term care system in Ontario where couples who have spent their entire lives together can stay together while receiving the right care they need.

I see retirement homes and long-term care homes partnering to be more integrated, allowing for better transition and co-ordinated care for residents across the province. Long-term care homes should be viewed as a vibrant part of the community, with expanded day programs that help residents live life fully and provide support for caregivers.

It also means expediting processes to get shovels in the ground and residents in homes faster. I have heard from many long-term operators from many regions in Ontario about the challenges they are facing when it comes to building new homes.

Finally, we must ensure funding is provided to make these much-needed improvements.

“Compassion,” “community,” “responsive” and “resident-centred” are not buzz words to me. These words are the foundation of my vision for long-term care in our province. Our government is committed to building a long-term care system that ensures people are treated with respect and dignity and one that will continue to be there for those who need it.

We owe it to our older generations who need care now and to our children who are the bright future of this province. One day, they may need this care too.

Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, MPP for Kanata-Carleton, is Ontario’s minister of long-term care.

Read the full story here.