By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express
Sitting in the boardroom of MPP Jennifer French’s Oshawa office, Deanne Houghton shows a picture of her late mother.
“This is how I prefer to remember her,” Houghton remarks.
Houghton was one of three residents, joined by French and Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath, who shared their experiences of dealing with the province’s long-term care system.
In July 2015, Houghton’s 96-year-old mother suffered a fall at the Oshawa long-term care home she had lived in since 2009. She was diagnosed by a doctor as having two fractures in her right leg, and would later pass away, as surgery could not be performed due to her age.
“She suffered a painful, reckless and needless death.”
Prior to her death, Houghton says her mother had been subject to substandard, and in some cases, neglectful care.
After suffering a stroke in 2008, Houghton’s mother ended up with paralysis on the right side of her body and a condition known as expressive aphasia.
“She could understand and follow instructions but could not verbalize.”
Early into her mother’s stay at the home, Houghton noted she began to realize something was wrong.
“She was mad or crying and there was always something wrong,” she recalls. “It was totally out of character for her.”
Eventually, the troubling signs became physical as bruising began to show, some that were so deep that it required an x-ray. This caused Houghton to install a ‘nanny’ camera in her mother’s room.
For the next few years, she claims she witnessed unsafe transfers, use of force and restraint and at least three falls after which proper assessment for injuries were not performed.
“Protocol and long-term care policy demand that you assess the resident for injuries and when you lift them up off the floor, you use a mechanical lift. That’s for the benefit of the staff and injured party,” Houghton says.
She recalled instances when her mother would have to wait 20 hours to be changed.
“There was literally urine dripping from her wheelchair that they’d have to mop up off the floor.”
While her mother was still alive, Houghton says she took her concerns to management, the police, the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care and the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.
“They were all dismissed,” she claims, adding she was told any video evidence she had could not result in actions against the home or any employees.
Although she made complaints about her mother’s treatment, she thinks others may be afraid to do so out of fear of trespassing orders, threats of defamation or reprisal against their loved ones.
Houghton believes a huge factor in what happened to her mother was a lack of full-time employees at the home.
“Staff don’t get to know the residents or build relationships. Management won’t listen to frontline staff because they are the ‘the professionals’.”
The experience has motivated Houghton to do whatever she can to help others to avoid a similar situation.
“If I can prevent one other person from going through this then my mother’s death won’t have been meaningless.”
To Horwath, “horror stories” such as Houghton’s are unacceptable.
“It’s become very clear that our long-term care system is broken,” she says. “It’s a system that keeps loved ones apart, keeps people stuck on waitlists and keeps people worried about abuse and neglect.”
Within the Central East LHIN, which includes Durham Region, there are currently more people waiting for beds at a long-term care facility than available spaces with 32,000 people waiting in total across Ontario.
“That’s bad enough, but with demographics changing the way they are, that’s going to grow to well over 50,000 in just a few years and we as a province are not ready for that.”
Last summer, the Ontario government announced a public inquiry into long-term care facilities in reaction to the murders of eight residents by former nurse Elizabeth Wettlaufer.
Horwath dismissed the validity of the inquiry, claiming it does not address the “systemic problems” despite repeated requests from her party to do so.
“We said ‘let’s have the courage, let’s look in the mirror and get to the bottom of this, but they refused. The government is not even willing to take a look at systemic problems in long-term care. If you aren’t prepared to take a look, how the heck are you going to fix them.”
With an election roughly four months away, Horwath says Ontarians have “choices to make,” and in her view neither the Liberals or Conservatives have suitable solutions to the problem.