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André Picard on the Crisis in Long Term Care

A Crisis We See Reflected in Our Elder Law Practice

You can close your eyes, but André Picard is determined to make you look. If you still refuse to see, he’s going to make you listen. Whatever it takes to get you to confront just how profoundly we’ve neglected the most vulnerable among us - our elderly in long term care. And how, if for no other reason than self-interest, we’d better do something about it. 

Mr. Picard is the health columnist for The Globe and Mail. On Tuesday, March 2, he spoke to CBC’s Matt Galloway about his new book: “Neglected No More: The Urgent Need to Improve the Lives of Canada’s Elders in the Wake of a Pandemic.”  

Mr. Picard is a master of quiet, matter-of-fact rage.  And his anger and disappointment with the historical erasure of the aged and aging strikes a particular chord with those of us who work in the estates, guardianship and elder law field. 

What Practicing Elder Law Teaches You

In my practice I’m often confronted with examples of how the voices of elderly are ignored, discounted, and trivialized. Too frequently, serious issues of abuse, mistreatment and neglect only come to light when significant and sometimes irreparable emotional, mental and physical harm have already been done. 

Mr. Picard’s interview confirms that the matters my colleagues and I deal with in our professional practice are simply a microcosm of how society at large treats the elderly - in particular how often we sound the alarm about issues facing the aging only when the damage already has been done.

The Pandemic

The pandemic has laid bare our longstanding and profound neglect of the aged, the racialized and the homeless. These are all populations our culture and systems segregate so that we don’t have to confront the uncomfortable reality of how we fail to protect and value them. 

In particular, the pandemic has revealed just how broken our systems and values are when it comes to ensuring people can age with dignity. 

Throughout the past year, Canadians have been exposed to countless personal narratives and political discourse describing the terrible impact of the pandemic on the elderly. These stories of isolation, illness and loss are heartbreaking.

No example is more poignant than the devastation in long term care homes. In Ontario, as of March 1, 2021, 3,757 residents and staff in these homes have died from COVID-19. This is more than 53% of all COVID-19 deaths in the province since the pandemic began. 

As Mr. Picard points out, these numbers show how decades of neglect and ageism created the perfect storm where these facilities - unprepared, understaffed and lacking in proper infrastructure -  were unable to protect the vulnerable. 

And That’s Not All

Beyond the direct impacts of the pandemic, we’ve heard reports of long term care facilities which fail to provide even a basic level of care. Yet it seems that, despite the public and political outrage that has followed, no practical solutions or policies have been put forward to avoid history repeating itself once COVID-19 is no longer a part of our lives. 

Mr. Picard suggests that the solution begins with a philosophical shift. We need to recognize that aging with dignity matters and give life to those values through practical policies. We need to improve infrastructure, standards of care and emphasize the value of the elderly as members of our community. At the same time, we need to improve wages for caregivers -  a workforce that is largely female and racialized. 

We’re All Going To Be There Someday 

In the end, if an appeal to community and dignity are not compelling enough,  Mr. Picard argues advancing these values is actually a matter of self-interest. Inevitably, we will all become members of this club that no one particularly wants to join. If we don’t advocate for our own interest in aging with dignity while we are capable of doing so, history suggests we won’t be able to rely on others to do it for us when we are at our most vulnerable.