The Current

Elderly patients in hospital need adequate long-term care plans before discharge, say families

The pressure is so high for hospital beds, some elderly patients say they are being discharged too soon.
Relatives of elderly patients waiting for long-term care are pushing back against hospitals eager to discharge them to make space for acute care patients. (Lighthunter/Shutterstock)

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Tom Spanidis's 88-year-old father Ilias had been in and out of hospital before.

But when he was admitted to the Stouffville-Markham hospital in April after a fall, Spanidis felt his father's continued dizziness and cracked spine meant he wasn't well enough to come home. The hospital disagreed and wanted to discharge him.

When Spanidis refused, arguing he and his wife couldn't provide the care his father needed, the situation escalated.

Tom Spanidis says the hospital called in three police officers — and also threatened to send his father to a homeless shelter.

"I'm just appalled that they could do this, you know, and get away with it," Spanidis tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.
Senior advocate Jane Meadus says the Ontario government must do more to help seniors who need long-term care. (CBC)

Ilias Spanidis is still in the transitional care unit of the hospital. The wait for the long-term care home he hopes to get into can be up to a year.

Sylvia Braithwaite who works at a women's shelter in Toronto says an increasing number of people are sent from the hospital directly to their doors — most of whom were previously homeless.

Braithwaite says her facility isn't equipped to look after people with open wounds or stage 4 cancer. And by her count, 15 of the 70 people at one of their facilities should currently be in hospital care.

"It is very taxing on us but also on the staff," she says.

"You have people who are really ill and people are dying in shelters too. So it's emotional for the staff as well."

Jane Meadus, with the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly, says stories such as the Spanidis family are not uncommon.

"Families are constantly battling with the hospitals around the kind of care that can be provided in the community," Meadus tells Tremonti.

"There's this suggestion that just everybody can be cared for in the community, that you can take your loved one home and provide adequate care — and that's just not true."

Families of elderly patients say better long-term care for seniors is desperately needed. (Carsten Koall/Getty Images)

Meadus points to a lack of long-term care spaces — but also to misinformation from some hospitals.

"The hospitals take the position, well, we don't have the ability to care for them here — which you know it's true — they need the beds and nobody argues with that," says Meadus.

"But you don't send someone to an inappropriate place because you have a systems problem."

Mount Sinai's director of geriatrics Dr. Samir Sinha tells Tremonti that 15 per cent of hospital beds are filled with patients who can't leave because they don't have home care help they need.

He says this is costing the health-care system $2.4 billion for people to "wait in a place that frankly they don't want to be waiting in."

Dr. Sinha points to a health-care system designed for younger patients, not seniors — and says long-term and home care are not an integral part of our health-care system.

But fundamentally, it comes down to communication.

"I'm hoping that what we can always remember is to make sure that we appreciate that everybody in these situations are stressed" Sinha says.

"We don't have a health-care system that's been quite right-sized yet to meet those needs. So how do we actually start communicating well? Because otherwise things escalate."

Listen to the full segment at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Idella Sturino and Sujata Berry.