Seniors’ Month turns 32 this year


2016 marks the 32nd anniversary of Seniors’ Month, which recognizes the important role seniors play in our communities.  This year’s theme is “Seniors Making a Difference.”

Seniors in Canada are living longer and healthier lives than previous generations. In 2014, over 6 million Canadians were aged 65 or older, representing 15.6 percent of Canada’s population. By 2030—in less than two decades—seniors will number over 9.5 million and make up 23 percent of Canadians. Additionally, by 2036, the average life expectancy at birth for women will rise to 86.2 years from the current 84.2 and to 82.9 years from the current 80 for men.

While many seniors lead fulfilling lives without significant physical or cognitive changes, aging can be debilitating. Physical ailments, mobility issues, chronic pain, cognitive and sensory impairments can affect one’s functional ability. Other challenges such as retirement, changes in income, widowhood, the loss of friendships through death, and new caregiving responsibilities can lead to social and emotional isolation. Research indicates that promoting and maintaining mental health among seniors has a positive impact on their overall health and well-being and significantly affects quality of life.

In 2011, 92 percent of seniors in Canada lived in a private home. Recent Government of Canada investments in affordable and social housing, age-friendly communities, support for caregivers and programs to combat homelessness are helping seniors stay in their own homes and remain physically and socially active.

Many communities have services just for seniors. These include:

  • adult day programs – including social, fitness and other healthy activities;
  • transportation services – for people who don’t have public transportation or need help to use it;
  • community hospice services – including counselling, support groups, yoga and art classes, grief support;
  • residential hospices – where end-of-life care is provided in a home-like environment for those who can no longer stay in their own homes. People in residential hospices receive a wide range of palliative services to keep them comfortable.

SEIU Healthcare is proud of our members who support and assist our senior citizens and we wish everyone a happy Seniors’ Month.


PSWs Are ‘Angels In The Fog’

Meet Bianca. She has a 75-year old father who is suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. A growing number of his memories are lost in a fog which he can’t remember or locate anymore. That’s why Bianca is happy to know he is being cared for by a highly qualified team of Personal Support Workers (PSW)s to look after his daily needs in a nursing home located in a small community north of Toronto.

“They are there because they care.”

“The PSWs who care for him are always so friendly,” said Bianca. “They take their time with him, even though their conversations aren’t that coherent. Every PSW I have come across is genuine. They are there because they care. They always say hello to him. They always let me know how he is doing.”

Her father seems to be happy with the care he is receiving from the PSWs at the nursing home. He has a good rapport with them and has grown very close to them. She can tell just by the way he speaks and interacts with them.

Her father always loved music and especially dancing. One day, when the stereo system was playing some Motown music, he began to dance. A staff member took some photos and mailed them to Bianca. She posted the pictures on her fridge to remind her that he is being cared for by qualified healthcare professionals. He can still find little snippets of happiness in a world that is very confusing for him.

When she visits him, she watches the PSWs walk by and say hello. Everyone is very patient and it’s their second nature to acknowledge every resident.

“PSWs do this job with heart,” she added. “Anyone can walk into a job and just show up for a pay cheque. But PSWs are different. They do it because they enjoy their job. They come to work with love, care and compassion for their residents. It’s my biggest blessing.”

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Behavioural Supports soothe dementia patients

With the numerous problems faced by and within Ontario’s nursing homes, we are used to sad stories about long-term care.

That’s why it was a very pleasant surprise to hear from Nancy Waddle, a Behavioural Supports worker at Sienna Barnswallow Place Care Community in Elmira, Ontario, about the open and collaborative atmosphere at her workplace.

“I absolutely love it there,” said Nancy without hesitation, about the nursing home where she’s been a caregiver since 2012. “I would send any of my loves ones to my nursing home.”

Nancy Waddle

Nancy credits in part the management team for the quality of the home. She says they treat the employees with respect. It’s a different environment than her last workplace, a privately owned nursing home. What’s important, she says, is that “I believe that when I speak, I’m heard.”

Behavioural Supports of Ontario is a funding initiative by the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, and it created Nancy’s job. She works directly with residents on their mental health, finding creative solutions to soothe people when they’re upset or acting out.

Nancy’s passion for her residents and work is palpable. Her favourite place is on the Alzheimer’s floor. She tells a story about one resident that she sees regularly. When they wake up around 5 a.m. asking to go home, Nancy takes the time to remind them that they are safe, that this is their home. She gives them puzzles to work on so they have something to do.

For other patients who don’t want to do certain things like take a bath, she figures out how to convince them it’s a good idea.

“It’s all about dignity and respect,” says Nancy. “The residents remember your smile and how you made them feel.”

We caught up with Nancy during a week-long bargaining session in Richmond Hill, where as part of a bargaining committee she is helping negotiate a new contract for around 16,000 nursing and retirement home workers across Ontario.Whether you’re at the bargaining table or living in a nursing home, it’s clear that you want Nancy and her coworkers at Barnswallow Place on your team.

Drugs vs. Direct Care: Is a minimum care standard a solution to the current woes facing long term care?

When I walked in to the office this morning I stood face to face with this article on the front page of the Toronto Star – an intimate portrayal of the medicating culture that has taken over long-term care (LTC) homes.

The article brings to light the use of antipsychotic drugs on elderly patients, and questions the alarming rate at which these medications are being administered. According to The Star, “At more than 40 homes across the province, roughly half the residents are on the drugs.” Half! On antipsychotic drugs: medication, The Star claims, that is being used to treat a condition or age group that it’s not approved for. In the article, they cite these drugs as “extremely powerful”, “not proven to work for seniors” and as having “horrible side effects” such as violence, confusion, and [some might suggest] death.

Though much of the article focuses on whether it is even appropriate to prescribe such medications, it also raises the questions around staffing, resources and patient care. Why are seemingly harmless residents being prescribed life-threatening medication, when staff members are unable to “cope” with their behaviour?

According to Statistics Canada, total paid hours of care (including non-direct care) per resident, per day in residential care facilities in Ontario was 3.3 in 1997/98 with a small increase to 3.8 in 2005/06. According to this data, Ontario is second last across the country for total hours per resident/day. The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care says that paid hours of care in 2012 were 3.43 per resident per day.

The number of paid hours takes into account hours paid for vacation, sick days and personal time. Therefore, “worked hours of care per resident per day” better reflects how many hours of care a resident actually received. According to the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, average worked hours of direct care per resident, per day was 2.375 in 2004 and 2.573 in 2006. We estimate that this number corresponds to no more than 2.9 hours of direct care per resident per day in 2012. For reference, in 2008, the government of Ontario commissioned a report on the long term sector, ‘People Caring for People’, authored by Shirley Sharkee. The report recommended 4 hours of direct care per person per day.

An obvious reality is that staff members are unable to respond to the needs of the residents, because of the shortages in caring staff and because of the increasingly complex needs of the residents. For example, 83% of residents in 2011 had “high” or “very high” care needs compared to 72% in 2007. That’s an 11% increase in residents of high need within a period of four years.

Research shows that incidents of violence occur most often when residents are not receiving direct care. And so it seems that some nursing homes that have shortage in staff, are regularly giving seniors these risky drugs to calm and “restrain” wandering, agitated and aggressive seniors. Medicating them with these strong medications seems to be an attempt to control their natural response to the neglect they face in a long-term care home.

The Star article goes on to write that “after a 2011 Star investigation into widespread abuse and neglect in Ontario nursing homes, the government spent $59 million to hire more than 600 employees and train 34,000. The efforts appear to have done little to ease most nursing homes’ reliance on these powerful drugs…”

In spite of successive years of funding increases to the LTC home sector, there has not been a similar increase in daily hands-on care provision. The vast majority of funding increases has gone towards building institutional capacity (either building more institutions or renovating older ones) rather than improving the amount of daily care for existing residents and addressing the urgent quality of care issues.

In January of this year, SEIU Healthcare made the following proposal at the 2014 Pre-Budget submission to the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs:

A five-year implementation schedule that would begin in 2014 with an immediate establishment of a minimum care standard of 3.5 hours of direct care per resident, per day, with the target of a 4.0 hours of direct care per resident by 2019. The standard should cover direct care staff including RPNs and PSWs, excluding administrative staff. It should be attached to the Nursing and Personal Care funding envelope – excluding incontinence supplies. It should reflect worked hours as opposed to paid hours and should be subject to compliance and enforcement mechanisms.

Staffing levels are crucial to providing sound care, preventing abuse and neglect, ensuring the safety of residents and care workers, and improving the quality of life of residents. A minimum staffing standard will ensure accountability and compliance for all LTC homes in Ontario to deliver a specific amount of daily care for which they are funded.

S.R.S and A.B.