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Seniors’ Series: A Few Final Notes on Seniors’ Issues in the Pandemic

With this series coming to a close, there remains a wide variety of topics to cover in the areas of seniors’ issues, elder law, and the COVID-19 pandemic. New research, media reports, judicial decisions, and government actions are regularly emerging, and the complexity of these topics is such that there are always many angles from which they can be examined.

Instead of focusing in more depth on a single topic, this final entry will briefly address several topics that came up in the research for this series. Every item that follows has, at some point, been added to a shortlist of potential full-length posts. Instead of discarding the list, this post will wrap up the series by touching on everything that remains.

Investment Resources

In light of the information covered by a previous post on how scammers have targeted seniors during the pandemic, it may be helpful for clients and their families to be aware of resources that can guide them in making prudent financial decisions. The Ontario Securities Commission’s website, in a section called The Investor Office, provides this type of guidance on investment, at: https://www.osc.gov.on.ca/en/Investors_office-investor_index.htm. Notably, the OSC maintains a Seniors Expert Advisory Committee, whose members advise the OSC on “securities-related policy, operational, education and outreach activities that are designed to meet the needs of Ontario’s older investors”.

Another Long-Term Care Report

Previous entries in this series have discussed recommendations of the Law Commission of Ontario that have not yet been implemented, and the tendencies of both governments and long-term care home operators to ignore investigation reports. In light of the current crisis in long-term care, it may also be worthwhile to revisit the recommendations of Gillese J.’s Public Inquiry into the Safety and Security of Residents in the Long-Term Care Homes System. Commissioned in response to the Wettlaufer serial killer case, this 2019 report makes recommendations that touch on the entire long-term care system, in such areas as:

  • Training;
  • Hiring;
  • Staff accountability and education;
  • Public funding;
  • Public awareness;
  • Home inspections and enforcement; and
  • Record-keeping.

The report, which includes a consolidated list of 91 recommendations in its first section, is available at: https://longtermcareinquiry.ca/en/final-report/.

Labour Law and the Long-Term Care Crisis

Another avenue that has been explored to address the long-term care crisis is in the area of occupational health and safety. Unions representing long-term care workers have brought various complaints against care home operators over the last several months.

  • In Service Employees International Union, Local 1 Canada v Heritage Green Nursing Home, 2020 CanLII 40685 (ON LRB), the Ontario Labour Relations Board (the “OLRB”) made orders regarding overtime pay, personal protective equipment, and notice of COVID-19 test results for workers at the home in question.
  • In Service Employees International Union, Local 1 Canada v A Director under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, 2020 CanLII 33555 (ON LRB), the ORLB ordered inspections of a dozen homes.
  • In Faithlyn Anderson, Larysa Yusupova, and Service Employees International Union, Local 1 Canada v Eatonville Care Centre, 2020 CanLII 31422 (ON LRB), the ORLB ordered inspections, action on the availability and use of personal protective equipment, and training in infection control.

Looming Effects of Social Isolation

The COVID-19 pandemic has been an isolating experience for many, but especially seniors, who face the greatest risk from the disease. Research indicates an alarming connection between social isolation and problems with mental health, and also indicates that those seniors who already face physical or mental health issues tend to be among the most likely to face isolation. Seniors from marginalized backgrounds, such as immigrant, Indigenous, LGBT+, and low-income seniors, also tend to increased risk.[1]

Separation from family and friends, and the closures of seniors’ centres, have created worries of an “echo pandemic” of mental health issues, even after COVID-19. As Canada recovers from the pandemic, its public health measures may need to include steps to address this particular issue, and it will be essential, as always, the vulnerable seniors are not left behind. This Global News piece from May addresses the issue in more detail: https://globalnews.ca/news/6849411/healthcare-workers-union-ontario-labour-board-coronavirus/.

Contact Tracing

Quebec has so far resisted the federal government’s push for a COVID-19 contact tracing smartphone app. While COVID Alert has so far launched in Ontario and three other provinces, the Quebec government remains unwilling to join them. Reasons cited by Quebec officials and experts include privacy concerns and a worry that the app will create a “false sense of security”.

Interestingly, concern for seniors has also been cited as a reason not to adopt COVID Alert. As reported by Radio-Canada, some have noted that only a minority of seniors have advanced enough phones, with advanced enough operating systems, to install the app. While it is not immediately clear why the app would not be a net benefit, given that there are still some seniors who would be able to use it, the apparent concern is that its use will exacerbate some of the very inequalities that already exist in the public health system.

Final Thoughts

Seniors’ issues will continue to evolve over time, especially as the pandemic forces rapid change in some areas. As always, WEL has various resources available on the challenging legal topics that frequently engage these issues. These resources include WEL’s recent book on elder law, which provides a detailed overview of elder law in Ontario, and is available at: https://welpartners.com/resources/WEL-on-elder-law.pdf.

[1] National Seniors Council – Report on the Social Isolation of Seniors, 2013-2014

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