Caring for my Aging Parents as the Ontario Healthcare System Collapses
Most of us want our parents to live robust and healthy lives as they age, and I'm lucky enough to have two parents who are still relatively healthy as they approach their 80's. They're farmers and they live on a 100-acre cattle farm, so they get lots of exercise and eat from their massive garden twelve months a year. The last few years have been tough on them socially, but they've managed to stay strong and happy. Recently, they contracted Covid and they haven't been the lucky ones who just had a 'flu'. And I've been caring for my aging parents as the Ontario healthcare system collapses and let me tell ya- it ain't pretty.
SIGN UP TO GET REGULAR UPDATES FROM ME STRAIGHT TO YOUR INBOX >>
Caring for Aging Parents
First of all, I have to admit that I haven't had to delve too far into Ontario's healthcare system as a parent-caregiver. Like I said, my parents are doing pretty damn great all on their own. Other than some cancer, heart attack and brain surgery blips over the last few years, they've been sailing along and supporting each other.
My experience with the collapsing healthcare system in Ontario is very lightly informed, and I'm grateful for that. But the cool thing about me is that I also completely understand the other side of this coin: the healthcare staff shortages, illness and just plain burnout as a nurse myself.
Calling the Family Doctor
First of all, congratulations if you've actually got a family doctor to call! In this province, that's a luxury. My parents' doctor retired a year ago and before she left her practice, she found another doctor to take it over. That's not only incredibly kind of her, it's not the case for everyone who has a doctor that wants to retire. So I fully understand how lucky my parents are to have a family doctor in a rural Ontario town.
We need innovative solutions to primary healthcare
As someone who worked in a healthcare team in a small Ontario town, I really don't understand why every doctor's office in this province isn't employing a registered nurse to carry out tasks like: immunizations, flu clinics, allergy shots and vitamin B injections. Actually, I think I do understand why and it's billing OHIP for money.
Healthcare teams are a great model that fully utilizes each healthcare professional to deliver primary care. I had my own exam room and my own schedule of patients as a nurse. It took a lot of pressure off of the doctors and nurse practitioners so they could focus on more complex issues.
Working in a small Ontario town means there are lots of hurdles to overcome to ensure that every patient is followed up and called back. There's incredible pressure in being one of a few doctors caring for an entire small town! Calling my mom back about her cough isn't a priority for him, and I understand why.
A lot of people don't understand that waiting by the phone all day for the doctor's office to call back is a bad idea when your pneumonia is just getting worse. That doctor probably has hundreds and hundreds of patients.
The Family Doctor's Office Hours
I think it's amazing that my parents' family doctor has hospital privileges because it keeps his assessment skills sharp and he's probably always learning new skills. Amazing!
Unfortunately it means that his office hours are reduced.
My parents do struggle to get appointments quickly and they're never sure when the doctor is working in the office.
The family doctor dilemma is not new and I'm certainly not going to be solving it today, but these past few years have been pretty desperate times so I hope some innovation happens soon!
No Walk-In Clinic
As far as my parents know, there is no walk-in clinic in Meaford. This means that every time they need more urgent care, they have to go to the emergency department at the hospital. To me, that seems like a waste of taxpayer's money because it's expensive to run a hospital.
I know this isn't the case for every small town. Even if you're lucky enough to have a clinic in your neighbourhood, it's probably not open long. The town I currently live in runs a walk-in clinic each day for 3 hours. If you don't get there to line up before it opens, you usually don't get an appointment. Better than the hospital emergency, but still not enough.
Ontario Healthcare System Collapse
It's bad. In fact, it seems to be hanging on by a thread right now. The healthcare system I left a few years ago to start my business is in much worse shape today than when I left it.
It's such a complex problem and it certainly hasn't happened overnight.
Remember the cries of the (traditionally, mostly women) healthcare workers who were screaming about long-term care? Nobody listened to them for years and years. I have my own nightmare of a story from working in a private longterm care home for TWO WEEKS (and that included my two-weeks notice). Nobody listened to those healthcare workers and nobody helped those poor, vulnerable elderly people. Once the pandemic hit, a lot of shit hit the fan and far too many people lost their lives unnecessarily.
After taking my mom to the emergency room yesterday, I'm afraid that's going to happen in our hospitals, too.
Our experience in a small hospital in rural Ontario
First of all, let me just remind you that I'm a nurse and I worked in Ontario hospitals for 20 years. When other people walk into a hospital, they get uncomfortable about the smells and noises. When I walk into a hospital, I feel like I'm home.
Leaving healthcare was a big deal for me and I only did it because I knew that my business MamaSoup could reach more people and impact more lives.
CLICK HERE TO STAY IN TOUCH WITH ME!
When I tell you about my experience, I'm not blaming a single, frontline healthcare worker. They've been given a super-sized shit sandwich and they're all just trying to get through it one bite at a time.
We walked in just after 12pm and there were three people in the waiting room. I'm not sure exactly how many beds the ER in that hospital has, but I think it's somewhere around seven or eight. My mom gave her health card, told the secretary what was wrong (recovering from Covid with a broken back, cough and shortness of breath). At this point, they told her to wait in the waiting room until she was called.
I dropped my mom off close to the door and went to park the car, so by the time I got inside she was sitting down in the waiting room. Because of her broken back, I wanted to stay with her in case she needed anything.
We waited and chatted. We people-watched and she winced every time she had to try and cough.
It was around 4pm when I asked her she had a fever when they took her vitals.
They haven't taken any vitals yet, she said.
Wait, what? We've been here for close to four hours. How can they prioritize people if they don't take their vital signs?
So I texted my friend: a nurse in a much bigger hospital. I asked her if not triaging emergency patients is a new Covid protocol and she was so confused by what I was asking.
How can they prioritize patient care if they don't triage?, she asked.
That's when we agreed, people could walk in here really sick and die in the waiting room. Especially given the elderly population of this town and the uptick of Covid.
She was triaged at 4:30pm and her blood pressure was so high that it's considered a hypertensive crisis. Then they sent her back out to the waiting room to sit by herself. I had gone to wait in the car when they called her to catch up on some business stuff so I had no idea.
Personally, I don't care about waiting. And I know from experience that what you see in the waiting room of a hospital never tells the full story of what's really going on.
And you know what? If my mom came in by ambulance because she was really sick, I'd want you to wait.
This hospital is small so once my mom got into a room around 5:30pm, we could hear everything the staff said and that's when we found out only one nurse showed up for dayshift.
Let me repeat that: ONE nurse showed up for dayshift in an emergency department.
The staff all around is stressed and it shows at every patient interaction. This is not a healthy way to work and I can see why healthcare staff are so burnt out. By the way- if your mom or dad has severe dementia, this is not the time to drop and dash them at the hospital.
It shocks me that people in this province aren't listening when nurses tell you that they're drowning. But the truth is, you'll find out eventually when you need them.
Recently I've heard about people who have family in the hospital and they''re shocked about the lack of personal care. Things like bathing and hair washing, you know- the bare minimum of care. But the truth is, the staff who show up for work are so busy just trying to keep people alive that there's no time for anything else.
If someone I loved was in the hospital for any amount of time right now, I'd hire someone to provide personal care like bathing and helping to get them up and moving. There's no time and no staff to do it now.
I know that my experience of caring for elderly parents as the Ontario healthcare system collapses is pretty mild. My parents are lucky that they've got a nurse for a daughter and they're very well looked after when they need help. In fact, they're slowing recovering from pneumonia now. It shocks me that people in this province aren't listening when nurses tell you that they're drowning. But the truth is, you'll find out eventually when you need them.
And to anyone who didn't vote in the last provincial election: I hope you don't need medical assistance anytime soon.
WHERE TO GO NEXT: ADVICE FROM AN EMPTY NESTER
Joanne Ilaqua - CEO of MamaSoup
Hey there, I’m Joanne.
I’ve spent about 20 years serving women as a nurse, doula and Lamaze educator. I have 4 kids and I know firsthand how lonely and isolating motherhood can be, so I created MamaSoup. I'm mostly known for my love of red wine, spontaneously singing and my confidence in being my true self on social media. When I’m not busy building women up, you can catch me taking Instagram stories of my bulldog Ruby, watching The Handmaid’s Tale, playing MUber (Mom Uber) to my kids or vacationing in my favourite town: Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
I love serving the world by providing a space for moms to connect and support each other. In my opinion, moms are the backbone of communities because they are (literally) raising the future!
As the founder and CEO of MamaSoup, I’ve been featured on CHEX TV Morning Show, KawarthaNOW, Economic Development- The City of Kawartha Lakes and MyKawartha.
Still with me? Join me over at MamaSoup to keep the conversation going!