Retirement homes: What will it mean if more hosptial patients end up in them?

A Toronto Star story last month provides some useful information on for-profit retirement homes. These homes now take care of patients that, until recent years, were taken care of in hospitals. With hospital cutbacks, more hospital patients will be forced into them.  Here is part of what the Star reported:

• The Ontario coroner's office is investigating the suspicious deaths of three elderly residents of a controversial west Toronto retirement home.

• The coroner's probe comes after a Star investigation detailed allegations that residents Edith Farrell, 80, and Danny Henderson, 74, died in hospital earlier this year after suffering severe malnutrition at In Touch Retirement Living.  After the story ran, the family of a third resident, 83-year-old Nellie Dineno, came forward with allegations that she, too, had serious health problems that went untreated before her death in late July.

• Critics say the government will allow the privately operated retirement homes to accept residents with high-medical needs without creating tough regulations. Judith Wahl, executive director for the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly, says the new act will focus more on consumer protection than medical care.

• Wahl applauded the coroner's investigation, saying it will expose the risks facing medically fragile residents of retirement homes. The coroner's probe comes after Toronto police and Ontario's Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee announced separately a few weeks ago they were investigating allegations of missing resident money.

• Among the problems were dangerous food preparation, underpaid staff, a rent cheque (belonging to Dineno) cashed after her death and court records detailing a confrontation that led to an assault allegation, which a judge later dismissed.

• Many of the residents had dementia or other serious medical problems and required the care of a government-funded and licensed nursing home. There are 77,000 nursing home beds in Ontario, with a waiting list of 24,000. Retirement homes in Ontario are unregulated, while nursing homes face hundreds of regulations, although many problems persist in these homes as well.

• The Liberal government says its new Retirement Homes Act will create oversight but critics say little will change unless regulations - as yet unwritten - force rigorous, surprise inspections and tough sanctions against problem homes.

• The government should require the coroner's office to investigate every tenth retirement home death like it does in nursing homes, Wahl said. "It is important that there be public oversight if they are going to offer heavy levels of care."

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