Change may be coming for couples separated in long term care

A London man is hopeful his parents can reunite in long term care if the provincial Till Death Do Us Part Act passes.

Gerald and Grace MacDougall lived together 65 years until they were separated when one entered long term care

Gerald and Grace Macdougall have been happily married for 70 years and while they've lived together for the majority of that time, the spousal separation in long term care has been difficult. (Submitted by Frank MacDougall)

Gerald and Grace MacDougall met shortly after the Second World War. They had been together ever since.

But, after 70 years of marriage and two children, the idea of being separated didn't cross their mind until about five years ago when one of them entered the long term care system and the couple was forced out of their normal cohabitation. However, their separation may come to an end. 

NDP legislator Catherine Fife introduced a private member's bill dubbed the Till Death Do Us Part Act to ensure couples can live together while in the province's long term care system.

The bill amends the Residents' Bill of Rights of the Long-Term Care Homes Act, 2007 by giving residents the right to not be separated from their spouse upon admission to a long term care home and have accommodations made so that spouses can live together. 

Last month, the Till Death Do Us Part Act passed a second reading and is now set to go before a standing committee for review. 

"It seems like a very, you know, normal thing to have happen, but that isn't what's going on," said NDP MPP Teresa Armstrong speaking on Afternoon Drive.

"When people are on waitlists for a very long period of time, some of them don't even get a bed in their local community and they're sent out of the city. This is a very important piece to make sure that we can keep families together," she added. 

The MacDougalls

One of MacDougalls' sons, Frank, says that after his father, 93-year-old Gerald, suffered a heart attack and started to lose his balance, he and his brother felt it was time to move him into a long-term care home to ensure someone could look after him.

But for Frank's mother, 96-year-old Grace, the situation provoked some separation anxiety. 

"It's been five years now, so she's coped with it, but sometimes I see her just sitting there and I assume she's thinking about the good times, so that would be with my dad," Frank said.

"I know my mom misses him and would love to be with him, just to have someone to talk to who really knows her," he added. 

While Frank is able to take care of his mom, he says between work and his own family, it's difficult to take her to Parkwood Institute to visit Gerald and the couple ends up seeing each other just twice a week. 

Gerald, having served in the Second World War, stays at the veterans wing, and even though Grace, who worked as a nurse tending to wounded soldiers during the war, is ready to settle in a long-term care home, she can't be admitted in the wing her husband is in because she was never registered in the military. 

"I mean that is not acceptable that a couple who have lived together for that long are told we have to separate you," Armstrong said about the MacDougalls' situation.

For Frank, the situation has been hard to watch. 

"It kind of makes me feel like they're forgotten," he said. 

"If they're married and they take a vow 'until death do us part,' that's it. They shouldn't be separated when they're still married and can still communicate." 

The bill must still pass a third and final reading before receiving royal assent and coming into force.

"I'm hopeful for it," Frank said. "It would mean everything."