This OP-Ed was the collaborative effort of ACT and RECAA members. It is one of several that will be written during this year. It was sent to the Gazette, La presse and le Devoir.
COVID-19 exposes elder abuse
As we mark World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15, the time has come to reflect on the place we reserve for older adults in our society. We are RECAA, a group of older adults whose mission it is to raise awareness about elder abuse in Montreal. This year, World Elder Abuse Awareness Day coincides with a pandemic that disproportionately affects our peers.
We watch in horror as the death toll among elders in Quebec continues to rise. Some 85% of the COVID-19 deaths have taken place in residences of long-term care, and we have collectively witnessed, through media reports and personal accounts, egregious situations of neglect and mistreatment.
In our society’s negligence, we have abrogated the rights of our oldest citizens. Does the Charter of Rights and Freedoms not apply to us? Do we not have the right to live respected and to die in dignity?
It is time to call the situation in long-term care in Quebec what it is. What we have all witnessed over these past few months is nothing short of institutionalized elder abuse. It is the result of years of gross negligence and marginalization of the elders living in long term care facilities.
The pandemic only exacerbated an already dire situation in long-term care, and little was done to prepare for such a crisis. This, despite years of warnings that most Quebec elders are being systematically discriminated against and neglected in elder homes.
The truth is that gross negligence over decades has undermined these institutions with minimum staffing, overworked employees, a lack of proper training, inadequate medical resources and minimal regulatory oversight. As a result, elders and their caregivers have been vulnerable to abuse, living in a culture of silence and fear. Elders can be subjected to reprisals from overburdened health care workers, who themselves risk the loss of their livelihood if they register complaints against the administration. There is no effective system to deal with grievances.
While politicians seem taken aback by the severity of the situation in long-term care, they shouldn’t be. Last year, Handicap Vie Dignité, a community organization which defends the rights of residents in long term care in Quebec, presented a proposal for a comprehensive set of reforms of the elder care system. These reforms were meant to ensure that frail older adults, as well as the staff working in that system, live with respect.
These recommendations for reforms were presented to the Quebec Health Minister in an April 2019 report entitled ‘Ensemble vers la bienveillance’. They offered practical solutions, the most important of which could have been implemented immediately, even within the context of the pandemic.
Yet, this report went unanswered. In a recent press release, Handicap Vie Dignité rightly stated that adopting their recommendations could have saved many lives. Do we trust Premier Legault, Minister McCann and Minister Blais to listen to them this time?
Dismissing the recommendations of groups that represent the rights of older adults will continue to have devastating consequences that are felt deeply in our province.
We know firsthand that abuse is rampant but underreported in our society. The COVID-19 crisis has made some of the abuse that we have tolerated for too long visible. If there is one silver lining to be found, it is that the pandemic has dramatically broken the silence on a disgraceful truth that we have ignored for too long.
Now, it is time to act.
For 20 years, RECAA, Respecting Elders: Communities Against Abuse (www.recaa.ca) has worked to raise awareness of elder abuse and to break the silence that surrounds this most hidden form of family violence. Most of them are elders from Montreal’s ethnic communities; they work against racism, ageism and sexism.