Kitchener MPP Laura Mae Lindo introduces bill to create seniors' advocate

Kitchener MPP Laura Mae Lindo has introduced a private member's bill that calls for the creation of a seniors’ advocate for Ontario.

Advocate would report regularly to the government on systemic issues affecting seniors, says Lindo

MPP Laura Mae Lindo says she came up with the idea for the bill after hearing from seniors and family members through the pandemic who felt alone in their advocacy. (CBC News)

Kitchener MPP Laura Mae Lindo has introduced a private member's bill that calls for the creation of a seniors' advocate for Ontario.

The advocate would represent seniors and family members who are caregivers, according to Lindo.

She says the advocate's office would report regularly to the government on any systemic issues affecting seniors, such as shortcomings in long-term care.

"The goal would be for [the advocate] to take isolated incidents and explain why they are systemic and as a consequence it will push the government to actually make the changes that are needed," said Lindo.

The NDP MPP, who represents Kitchener Centre, tabled the bill in the legislature on Tuesday. 

'Alone in their advocacy'

Lindo says she came up with the idea after hearing from seniors and family members through the pandemic who felt helpless.

"A lot of people felt alone in their advocacy," said Lindo. 

That includes Maria Duckett, whose mother was a resident at Forest Heights long-term care home in Kitchener.

When the facility called her after the first confirmed case at the beginning of April, Duckett says she tried to immediately remove her mother from the home.

"I was passed on to several different people, as nobody knew how I could go about getting my mom released," said Duckett.

"I think that's what was most frustrating is they didn't seem to know where to go, to or who they can reach out to, to even be able to help me or see if there was any options for me."

She says it took eight days of going back and forth with Forest Heights to bring her mom home.

Revera says discharges now 'more complex'

Duckett tested positive for COVID-19 and died on June 16.

"Should there have been an independent body or a direct source where I could have gone or could have guided Forest Heights or other homes and the options available during the pandemic, perhaps we could have avoided leaving my mom vulnerable and exposed to the virus," said Duckett.

In a statement to CBC News, Revera Retirement Living, which runs Forest Heights, says it always tries to accommodate discharge requests.

"That said, there is a discharge process that we are required to follow when a resident, or a Power of Attorney on behalf of the resident, requests to leave. This process, which normally takes several days, is more complex since the onset of COVID-19 in March, as additional public health considerations are introduced," the statement said.

Extra support needed, says advocate

The Advocacy Centre for the Elderly (ACE) is a group that already represents seniors and family members. But Jane Meadus, an institutional advocate with ACE, says more support from an independent officer connected to the legislature is much needed.

Some seniors can't advocate for themselves or don't have family members to help them, so they could use an amplified voice in their corner, said Meadus.

"I think that a seniors' advocate would be able to do advocacy and get it in front of the government in a way that an office like ours can't," said Meadus. "It would be able to do reports and bring things to the minister's attention."

Lindo will find out in September when her bill is scheduled for the next reading. After that point, she needs support from more than just her party in order for the bill to pass. 

"I do hope the government follows words with action to support the bill," said Lindo.

CBC News asked the office of the Minister of Seniors and Accessibility if the government would support the bill. In a statement, a spokesperson said the ministry appreciates Lindo's interest in helping seniors. 

"[We] look forward to her support for our ongoing and upcoming initiatives," the statement said.