Officially recognized by the United Nations as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD), June 15 is an important time to raise awareness about elder abuse as a public health and human rights issue.
While rates of abuse can only be estimated due to widespread underreporting, the social and moral implications of elder abuse are substantial. As the seniors’ population continues to grow, this crisis will only worsen, unless we work to build broad public awareness and encourage activism.
While respecting our elders remains a timeless principle, WEAAD brings with it a renewed significance this year, in light of the COVID-19 crisis and the substantial risks posed to older persons – both in terms of their physical and mental health.
COVID-19 has disproportionately harmed older persons and it has threatened the vital social networks they rely upon. Prolonged social isolation has been difficult, and it has put many seniors at greater risk for elder abuse and neglect, including those living in long-term care, which has been the epicentre of Ontario’s COVID-19 crisis.
Recently, a military report detailed horrific conditions in Ontario’s long-term care facilities, including deaths due to dehydration and malnourishment. Since then, Ontario’s Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission has put forth 85 key recommendations to fix Ontario’s long-term care sector. Many of those recommendations have been echoed by advocates, like OPSEU/SEFPO, who continue to call for an end to for-profit care, and to demand a fully public system where people come first.
Yet despite growing public awareness and concern, the media continues to report on long-term care facilities that are still breaking the law, without facing serious penalties. There are facilities that continue to be cited for infection-prevention violations, despite having already been hard-hit by deadly outbreaks of the COVID-19 virus. It’s clear that these facilities won’t change until they are forced to change.
That’s why this year, in honour of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, OPSEU/SEFPO is renewing its commitment to demand justice for our elders; to demand more inspections of long-term care facilities, and more severe consequences for rule-breakers, including financial penalties, revoked licenses and even jail time.
We will continue to call for a police investigation into criminal negligence in the long-term care sector. To-date, none has been launched and it’s beyond time for the OPP to get involved. We mustn’t allow this Wild West mentality of lawlessness by providers to continue unchecked. Our loved ones deserve so much better.
This Elder Abuse Awareness Day, let’s show we care for those who’ve always cared for us.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas
Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida
OPSEU/SEFPO First Vice-President/Treasurer