Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath was in Trenton last week and held audience alongside a Picton resident as she touted the provincial party’s plan for a Caregiver Benefit Program.
The intuitive will support informal caregivers — those who regularly help a loved one who is aging or living with a disability in their own home or a retirement setting.
Jennifer Warr-Hunter was with Horwath at the at the Trenton Senior Citizens Club Wednesday to share her family’s experiences caring for her late mother for over a decade. The NDP’s Caregiver Benefit Program would provide direct support to caregivers who do not qualify for federal tax credit programs or respite care. The means-tested program would provide $400 a month to informal caregivers. Informal caregivers almost always take on additional expenses, like transportation costs.
“Home is the healthiest, happiest place for many people as they age,” said Horwath. “I am committed to improving home care so people can live at home longer. But we know most people living at home with care needs have a spouse, a child or a good friend who is there, day in and day out. They’re the ones who cook the meals, make the doctor’s appointments, and are trusted to help with personal care. They’re unsung and unsupported heroes who selflessly pour their time and their hearts into caring for another person.
“It’s time for Ontario to care for the caregivers.”
In 2019, the Ontario Community Support Association said 18,000 people living in long-term care could have been at home with better home care, and the Ontario Hospital Association reported 750,000 patient days where someone was stuck in a hospital bed while waiting for home or long-term care. Horwath said family caregivers are a critical part of helping people live at home, instead of a nursing home or hospital bed.
Warr-Hunter explained she and her sister cared for her mother for 13 years until the matriarch’s passing in November 2020-first at home and then at a long term care facility where the daughter quickly realized beleaguered and over worked staff couldn’t meet the hour to hour and minute to minute needs on a consistent basis.
“The staff were, for the most part, lovely and as helpful as possible but there are just not enough of them. The ratio of staff to residents was shocking to us, particularly on the weekends. Staff were run off their feet,” Warr-Hunter recalled. “The PSWs, nurses and RPNs we met were wonderful. I believe that shortages in the health care system could be relieved with the offer of full time work, decent wages and paid sick days.”
To ensure care was at an acceptable level, the Warr-Hunter and her sister shared days staying in their mother’s room, puréeing her food, helping her to eat, assisting with toileting and hygiene.
“If staff was available to help, like with a shower for instance, we were billed. For a short time we were billed just to have her meals delivered to her room. This system needs a massive overhaul,” Warr-Hunter added. “The caregiver benefit program that Mrs. Horwath has announced today would provide some financial support, but more importantly, it will acknowledge the work that family caregivers do every day.”
Horwath decried the current status of long term care in Ontario and said further privatization was not the answer for elderly Ontarians and their families.
“Doug Ford was making big cuts to long-term care before the pandemic, and he’s taking another swipe at privatizing more of the home care now. He just doesn’t believe in investing in our aging parents and grandparents,” said Horwath. “And Steven Del Duca and the Liberals aren’t the answer. They had 15 years to introduce programs to help people live safely at home for longer. They chose not to when they had the chance.”
Currently, Nova Scotia is the only province with a similar Caregiver Benefit program.
The plan touted by Horwath is part of NDP’s long-term care and home care platform-Aging Ontarians Deserve the Best- and would be geared to middle and low-income families. That comprehensive plan includes establishing provincial standards for home care and reverses current course, making all home care public and not-for-profit.