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Reunification of Couples in Long-Term Care – The Case of John and Gwen Hooper

In January of this year, CBC[1] reported on the concerning situation regarding spaces in long-term care homes in Ontario and the reunification of couples. CBC highlighted the case of married couple John (95) and Gwen Cooper (92). Both John and Gwen require full time care but unfortunately for the past 19 months have had to be placed in separate care homes, despite their children’s determination to reunite them.

Their daughter Cynthia Hooper, is worried about the strain the distance is taking on her parents’ mental well-being; her father John has been particularly affected, suffering significant cognitive decline. Cynthia said that “there’s a physical [care] need, but there’s also a mental need and I think that needs to be addressed”[2]. Due to both Gwen and John’s medical conditions, traveling by car to see each other can be difficult and the outbreak of COVID-19 and the resulting lockdowns have only exacerbated their separation.

According to Dr. Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at two Toronto-based institutions, Mount Sinai Hospital and the University Health Network, reuniting spouses has become an increasingly lower priority in the long-term care admission system.

Dr. Sinha said that crisis patients from hospital are now at the top priority for admissions to care homes, followed by those whose health has deteriorated in their homes. The lack of resources both in hospitals and for supportive care have made it difficult to stem the tide of crisis patients. He further states that “the average life expectancy in an Ontario long-term care home is about 18 months”[3].

Professor Ivy Borugeault at the University of Ottawa, commented that the current procedures of the long-term care system and the pressure on workers exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic have made it more difficult to serve the needs of families in reunification.

Under the Long-Term Care Homes Act, 2007[4] (the “LTCHA”) the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care regulate admissions to long-term care homes. The act provides categories for admission waiting lists, on this list spousal reunification is under Category 2, only behind crisis patients under Category 1 as the top priority.

The unfortunate case of John and Gwen highlights how much strain has been put on Ontario’s long-term care system.

It is worthwhile to remember the fundamental principle of the LTCHA, which upholds that “a long-term care home is primarily the home of its residents”[5] and it should be operated to ensure residents have their “physical, psychological, social, […] needs adequately met”[6].

John and Gwen’s separation, which has been detrimental to both John’s cognitive health and Gwen’s emotional wellbeing, demonstrates a failure to follow the central principle of the LTCHA and ensure the quality of life that should be expected from Ontario’s long-term care homes.

[1] See Matthew Kupfer, ”After 73 years of marriage, this couple is forced to live apart” January 30, 2023, CBC, accessed online: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/long-term-care-ontario-spousal-reunification-ottawa-1.6726865

[2] ibid

[3] ibid

[4] Long-Term Care Homes Act, 2007, SO 2007, c.8

[5] Ibid at paragraph 1

[6] Ibid


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