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Why are Persons with Disabilities Being Placed in Long-term Facilities?

As an active member in the Community Living movement for decades, I have served on local, provincial and national boards. In these roles, I championed families in an association that sometimes forgot that families gave birth to the movement while almost exclusively focusing on the needs of individuals with intellectual disabilities. Over the years, however, as my parents aged and passed away after long illnesses, my commitment extended to the family caregivers themselves – those who give so much of themselves to caring for loved ones of all ages, with or without intellectual disabilities.

Today, I have adopted the cause of eldercare because of the horrors we have witnessed in the high death toll among seniors living in long-term care facilities during the pandemic. Many families had to second-guess why they had left their elders in such high-risk residences, where their loved ones were confined to their rooms and deprived of much-needed social interaction to protect them from COVID-19. As an active member of Seniors for Social Action (SSAO), I have worked to lobby for the boomer cohort, to which I belong, because we are part of Canada’s rapidly aging population. Not only will we put great pressure on society to prepare for the senior tsunami that will hit Canada by 2025, when there will be 10 million of us, but we will also challenge governments at all levels to change the way they care for us.

In particular, we will challenge the current long-term care system because it does not offer us a variety of options from which to choose. With endless wait lists, we will be lucky to find a bed before we die! In any case, most of us want to avoid going to an LTC facility like the plague! We dread it so much that we want to pose a challenge to those who can make our wishes come true: Provide us with options to age in place, at home where we already have a bed, or in small households where we can live out our golden years with friends and family in the community – NOT in an institution!

Yet, despite the tragedies that have unfolded in LTC facilities, we have recently heard of not-yet-senior adults with disabilities being placed in them. We thought we had finally taken people with disabilities out of institutions twenty years ago, when we found more inclusive settings for them with the help of the “community living” movement. And yet, here we are again, placing adults prematurely in nursing homes because, evidently, there is no other place for them to stay!

But we know that thousands of adults with disabilities are safely and successfully living in group homes with others of their own age, where their needs are met. Why is this solution not viable for all other social groups? Surely it is a question of will, since the costs of living in one place or another are comparable.

Have we lost our commitment to the principle of inclusion? In placing adults with disabilities in LTC facilities, we are reverting to the old-fashioned, exclusionary treatment of persons with disabilities. If so, we are losing our faith in community. We must immediately stop this practice and question our motives to ensure everyone, without exception, is treated with due respect. It is a case of human dignity.