Kitchener-Waterloo

Elderly couples split because of lack of long-term care a growing issue, Kitchener-Waterloo MPP says

Kitchener-Waterloo MPP Catherine Fife says she has been fighting for months to get an elderly couple reunited after they were separated by the long-term care system.

Catherine Fife says legislation to include reunification beds in LTC facilities is not enough

Kitchener-Waterloo MPP Catherine Fife says couples separated by the lack of long-term care beds has been a consistent issue since taking office six years ago. (Shutterstock)

Kitchener-Waterloo MPP Catherine Fife says she has been fighting for months to get an elderly couple reunited after they were separated by the long-term care system and that stories like these are becoming more common. 

Fife said in Question Period in Queen's Park on Wednesday that she has worked with the Waterloo-Wellington Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) to find a solution for Patricia and Don Deighton.

The couple been married for 64 years but has now been apart since August because Patricia needs long-term care, while Don lives in a retirement residence.

The MPP says her office and the LHIN have attempted to find a solution, but have failed twice.

"The only option that exists for an elderly couple like Pat and Don is to find another resident in another home to switch beds, as you could imagine that's a very complex proposal because people who are in long-term care are also fragile," Fife told CBC News. "We got very close to finding two different options, but unfortunately they both fell through." 
Kitchener-Waterloo MPP Catherine Fife says couples separated by the lack of long-term care beds has been a consistent issue since taking office six years ago. (Supplied)

The LHIN, which helps families find long-term care options, said it's seeing more situations like that facing the Deightons, but is committed to finding solutions.

"As our population ages, and the complexity of our health care needs increase, it's something that we're seeing more and more," Connie MacDonald, director of communications and community engagement for the Waterloo Wellington LHIN, said. "We do everything we can to make sure families have the care and support they need and look at the most creative ways possible to keep families together."

Long-term care beds lacking

Part of the problem, Fife says, is the lack of long-term care beds available.

"There are very few options where a spouse can be in long-term care with their other spouse in retirement services," she added. "Unfortunately, this government hasn't planned for two elderly people to age at different rates and require different levels of care."

When asked about long-term care by the media on Wednesday, Minister of Health and Long Term Care Eric Hoskins said legislation was passed in the fall to strengthen long-term care, including stronger enforcement measures, better oversight and reuniting couples. 
Minister of Health and Long Term Care Eric Hoskins says legislation was passed in the fall to strengthen long-term care, which includes efforts to reunite couples. (Supplied)

"There was also a provision in there that allowed for regulation, which came into force January 1st, which requires every single long-term care home in the province to set aside at least two beds specifically and solely for spousal reunification purposes," he said. "We did that because of the understanding that this is a serious issue. We need to work hard to enable couples to reunite." 

Issue becoming more common, Fife says

Fife doesn't believe it's enough considering how many people are already waiting for a long-term care home.  

"[That] would work if there are enough beds," she said. "There are 2,600 people waiting for long-term care in Kitchener-Waterloo and 32,000 across the province waiting for long-term care."

The Deightons' case isn't the only one Fife said she has seen as MPP, and added couples are commonly split up because of long-term care.  

"There's another case in my office where the spouse has been allocated out of the community because there were no long-term care spots in Kitchener-Waterloo," she said.

"I've been an MPP for six years and this has been a consistent issue that comes into my office, but when you find these heartbreaking reunification stories, it really pulls on the heartstrings."