Letter writing campaign initiated to lobby for long-term care beds
Tim Brody - Editor
The Sioux Area Seniors Activity Centre is encouraging community members 18 and over to take part in a letter writing campaign they are spearheading to send personal letters to Ontario Minister of Long-Term Care Stan Cho expressing the dire need to increase long-term care beds in Sioux Lookout.
The letter writing effort will take place at the senior centre at 66D Front Street on Nov. 18 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“The idea is to have people drop in to the centre and write some kind of message to the Minister for Long-Term Care about what the situation is in Sioux Lookout and really to encourage the provincial government to move quickly on the funding approval so that construction can get going. As we all know we’ve been waiting for years now,” shared Janis Magnuson, a member of the senior centre who is involved with the letter writing campaign.
She added, “The idea of the letter writing campaign is to remind the political decision makers that we’re here and for many people their lives are on hold as they’re waiting and waiting and waiting for beds. The idea is to have people write some kind of a personal note to encourage people to move on the issue.”
Magnuson explained, “We have cards and we can put postage on them and send them off and see what kind of a response we can get. Things are getting more desperate as more and more people are occupying beds that should be used for acute care. So, this is a squeaky wheel, this is another attempt to say hey, we’re still waiting here.”
Sioux Lookout Mayor Doug Lawrance informed, “The need for additional long-term care beds in Sioux Lookout has been recognized for decades. Currently there are twenty-one licenced beds at the Bill George Centre. Studies, needs assessments, and waiting lists have all documented the growing need. Directly to the point, one need only look at the number of acute care beds (54) in the Meno Ya Win Health Centre now used as ‘alternative level care’ (ALC) beds for patients who should be in long term care rather than acute care. The percentage of acute care beds used as ALC beds in Meno Ya Win fluctuates around 50% to 60% and this number continues to grow. This has negative impacts not only at Meno Ya Win but also downstream in the acute health care system at Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre and beyond. Furthermore, the limited availability to home care services and supported living for seniors in Sioux Lookout creates upwards pressure into long term care – in our case alternative level care in a hospital bed. Never mind the poor economics of all this, the impact on patients, families, and health care staff is, at this stage, inexcusable.”
According to Sioux Lookout Meno Ya Win Health Centre (SLMHC) the average wait for a long-term care (LTC) bed at the William “Bill” George facility is approximately 6-7 years. For Alternative Level of Care (ALC) patients who are designated in crisis that are hospitalized, the average wait is 3-4 years.
The provincial government has allocated an additional 76 long-term care beds.
SLMHC continues to advocate for the LTC beds that were allocated and say they are ready to hit the ground running when approval comes. SLMHC was designed to have the expanded long-term care unit built onto the health centre.
SLMHC President and CEO Dean Osmond stated, “We are continuing to have discussions with Ontario Health Northwest, and the Ministries, to stress the importance of providing the additional Long-Term Care beds that were allocated since 2018. Having a large number of Alternate Level of Care (ALC) patients in our hospital has impacted our ability to get acute care patients out of our Emergency Department and into a bed. The lack of beds has also impacted our ability to repatriate our patients back from other facilities in a timely manner, such as Thunder Bay Regional Health Science Centre.”
“It is my understanding that when the 20-unit Bill George Centre was opened thirty years ago it was sized to meet the long-term care needs of the combined populations of Pickle Lake, Hudson, the Town of Sioux Lookout, and the ‘rural’ areas around Sioux Lookout. A combined population of approximately 5,500. In the intervening years Sioux Lookout’s role as a hub community for 30+ First Nations has grown significantly. The full development of northern airports and the Municipal airport and the associated scheduled flights has been key in this growth. Resulting from the Four Party Agreement, the opening of the Meno Ya Win Health Centre and the evolution of the Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority, continue to be at the centre of health care growth in Sioux Lookout. The statistics related to hospital occupancy, outpatient overnight stays in Sioux Lookout, Emergency Department visits, land and air ambulance use, airport passenger movements (especially related to health care), waiting times for service, and, to the point, a wait time for long term care measured in years, all these statistics and more point to the on-going growth in the demand for services in Sioux Lookout and the undersupply of such services,” Lawrance said.
Magnuson, now retired, was a general practice lawyer in Sioux Lookout from 1981 to 1994. She continued her practice upon moving to Calgary. She moved back to Sioux Lookout in June.
Magnuson chaired the hospital board in Sioux Lookout for a number of years.
“I was involved in the Bill George Centre, I was chair of the board at the time for the ribbon cutting ceremony and I was actually involved in the very first round of negotiations of this four party agreement (among Nishnawbe Aski Nation, The Municipality of Sioux Lookout, and both the federal and provincial governments. The agreement resulted in the construction of the Sioux Lookout Meno Ya Win Health Centre).
“I actually read the agreement and I noticed that there are a number of times when the agreement refers to the unique characteristics of the district and the challenges posed by the geography of the district. That’s included in the agreement, so I think that if the powers that be in Toronto are reminded that the Ministry of Health was aware in 1997 that there were unique circumstances here, so let’s move along with some funding here that is also unique,” Magnuson said.
“Thirty years ago, when the Bill George Centre opened in Sioux Lookout, it provided approximately 3.5 long-term care beds per 1,000 people in the planned for service area of 5,500 people. The Bill George Centre now provides about two thirds of a bed per 1,000 people in the current service area of over 30,000 people. It is my understanding that in health care analysis this ratio is often expressed as the number of beds available per population over the age of 65. However, given the unique health and demographic factors in our service area, this methodology may lead to an understatement of our needs. A simple Google search shows a current total of approximately 80,000 long term care beds in Ontario. Using a total Ontario population of 14.5 million, the ratio of LTC beds per 1,000 people in Ontario is 5.5. Based on these simplified numbers, the Sioux Lookout area is under-serviced by a factor of 8,” Lawrance said, adding, “This begs the question - what makes our population needing long-term care in the Sioux Lookout service area one eighth the value of the population needing long term care in the rest of Ontario?”
Earlier this summer community members in Sioux Lookout made a commitment to send Premier Doug Ford a message, in the form of shovel barring that message - honour the promise they say he made to make additional long-term care beds a reality in Sioux Lookout.
That shovel arrived in Queen’s Park last week and was entrusted to Kiiwetinoong MPP Sol Mamakwa to present to the Premier.
“From the lobbying for the Bill George Centre to lobbying for the current expansion of long-term care in Sioux Lookout, the Municipality, citizens, and citizen groups have been at the core of these efforts. The Municipality has worked with Meno Ya Win Health Centre to present Briefing Notes to appropriate Provincial Ministers, write letters of support, and keep this a living issue that the Province must address. We have worked with First Nations and First Nation agencies. Those efforts are on-going and current,” Lawrance said.
“The Municipality will soon receive the annual bill from Kenora District Homes for the Aged. That bill will be approximately $500,000. Over the years the amount the Municipality pays has continued to increase while our access to local long-term care has continued to decrease. This year we will be asking why we pay more for less each year. We will also be asking what the Federal Government’s role is in this matter.
“Informed and strategic advocacy done directly by citizen groups can be very impactful. We applaud the current work being undertaken by citizens in Sioux Lookout. As Mayor, I will continue to support such efforts and Municipal advocacy until the infamous shovel is in the ground,” Lawrance concluded.