EDITORIAL: Elderly needing care aren’t ‘bed blockers’

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We wouldn’t call a child needing cancer treatments a “health-care hoarder” and we shouldn’t call elderly patients occupying beds in acute care hospitals because there’s no long-term care facility available to them, “bed blockers.”

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While the modern term is “alternative level of care” patients, the issue has nothing to do with the elderly or others requiring long-term care willingly blocking beds in acute care hospitals and clogging up the system.

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The provinces are responsible for this issue, which is particularly acute in Ontario because of a chronic shortage of long-term care and home care.

What typically happens is that an elderly person or other individual with multiple health issues arrives at a hospital emergency room because of an acute episode of an illness or other emergencies such as a heart attack, stroke or a broken hip from a fall.

The hospital treats the emergency — often requiring days or weeks of recovery in hospital — but eventually the patient is ready to be discharged.

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The problem is the emergency which brought the patient to the hospital is often the tipping point for the patient needing long-term care or home care.

Because of dire shortages of both, the patient remains in the acute care hospital awaiting transfer to an appropriate facility or appropriate home care, leading to a shortage of acute care beds, which in turn leads to hallway medicine and overcrowded emergency rooms.

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Because of the long waiting lists for long-term care, which go well beyond alternative levels of care patients because of the province’s aging population, Premier Doug Ford’s government is passing legislation to enable transferring patients from acute care hospitals to long-term care on the basis of wherever beds are available, as opposed to the preferred location of the patient.

While this is needed to address hospital overcrowding, the government is rushing through the legislation without public hearings and without addressing understandable concerns from patients, and their families, if they have them, that they could easily fall through the cracks, for example by being transferred to facilities far from loved ones and support systems.

It’s vital for the Ford government to slow down and get what it is doing right. Doing it too fast could lead to disaster.

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