Our seniors deserve far better than the Ontario Government’s Bill 7, which will force vulnerable seniors into unsuitable long-term care homes that will deny many of them culturally-appropriate care and also separate them from the critical support of loved ones. For our Chinese Canadian elders and other racialized seniors, this is also another glaring example of systemic racism in our healthcare system.
Shortly before I left my job of almost 18 years as the Executive Director of a long-term care home serving Chinese and South Asian Canadian seniors in Markham, a Chinese Canadian senior with dementia was transferred from another long-term care home where she had stayed for three years. On her first day of admission, her daughter was shocked to hear her mother in her 80s with dementia talking to staff in the new home in her mother tongue. Her mother had stopped talking for over a year in the previous home, which the daughter attributed to her mother’s dementia. In fact, the senior was able to communicate with the staff in her mother tongue, and she also expressed her preferences in activities and the food that she was familiar with. After more than three years of waiting, the daughter witnessed firsthand on her mother’s first day of admission what huge differences it made to her mother’s life with a home of choice that provided culturally and linguistically appropriate and responsive care.
Because there are just so few of them, long-term care homes that provide culturally, linguistically, and spiritually appropriate care have longer waiting lists than other homes in Ontario. According to Wellesley Institute, the median wait time for applicants waiting for a religious, ethnic, or cultural home was 246 days longer than those waiting for a “mainstream” home in GTA in 2017 to 2018.¹ Many of these seniors are racialized or from ethnic minority communities whose first language is not English. Some of these seniors on the long waiting lists are staying in their own homes with the support of families and private care if they or their families have the means. Some are waiting in Alternate Level of Care (ALC) beds in acute care or rehabilitation hospitals because it is not safe for them to return to their own home without support. Even when racialized and ethnic minority seniors are in ALC beds, many still rely on families to provide high levels of support, such as interpretation services to facilitate communications or daily delivery of more diverse food that is not on the hospitals’ menus.
Through Bill 7, the Ontario Government is pushing patients from ALC beds to long-term care homes that can be 70 to 150 kilometers away from their homes. As unfair and harsh as this is for any senior facing significant health needs, it will have even more negative consequences for racialized and ethnic minority seniors who are sent to homes that do not provide appropriate care. These more vulnerable seniors also rely much more on the support from their loved ones, who are critical to their survival. Even when they are not discharged, they will be hit with the financial burden of the hospital fees when racialized seniors are already disproportionately represented in low-income communities.
Advocacy groups deserve support for launching a Charter of Rights challenge against Bill 7. It is however important that this challenge is not just based on age as the ground of discrimination. Racism and discrimination based on ethnicity have to be addressed as well. The worthwhile Charter Challenge should proceed with an inclusive and intersectional approach that fully acknowledges the plight of Chinese Canadian and other racialized or ethnic minority seniors, especially those who may have stopped talking just because they have no one to talk to or no one to listen to them.