"Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant with the weak and the wrong. Sometime in your life you will have been all of these."  — Dr. Robert H. Goddard (American rocket engineer 1882-1945)

I read this quote on a webpage recently. Accurate? I think so. I think it is truer than we might like to admit. We forget that we all go through many stages in our lives, especially when we are indignant about our own position or world view. If we are not cynical about the young we turn on the aged. Those who are eager are an annoyance when we are feeling complacent. When we are feeling secure in ourselves, we see weakness as a character flaw and we pounce. Goddard, in his wisdom, saw that it becomes very easy to forget that we have many seasons to our won lives.

Remember when we were young? Ok, I know that some of you are saying, ‘good grief Kevin, you are young!’ This is true from one perspective, but believe me when I say that when speaking with a 18 year old, I am ‘old.’ Not hard to imagine really. When I was a youngster of 16, my oldest brother was 37. I thought he was ancient. My dad was 71! I no longer see 37 as ancient. And dad has long proved to me that age is a state of mind and not a number.  Yet, at that point in my life I was cynical about ‘old people.’ I felt that they did not get it. How could a person  ‘that old’ know anything? Perhaps you can remember thinking that way too. When I think of some of the things that my parents and my older siblings told me when I was a youngster that I thought silly then, I am amused now.

The point is that we often do not see the value in our elders. What scares me nowadays is the thought that this lack of respect for those who are older than us is oozing into our society and into our systems and social safety nets. I go to the nursing homes regularly and I am saddened to see those who have been forgotten by their family. Then there are those with no family. In their case society in general has forgotten them.  I have become very disenfranchised with the state of our nursing homes. A July 2 article in Canadian Press states that The majority of Ontario’s nursing homes have failed to meet basic standards set out by the province to preserve the rights of elderly residents, with some failing to bathe residents even twice a week, others leaving seniors sitting for hours in soiled diapers and still others unnecessarily restraining those in their care, an investigation by The Canadian Press reveals.  Make no mistake that they are not exaggerating the concerns at all.  One of the homes mentioned in the article is here in Tecumseh. Banwell Gardens which is owned an operated by Revera Inc. The CP article continues, Inspectors said residents at Banwell Gardens in Tecumseh who were unable to feed themselves had to wait up to an hour at a dining room table before staff were able to serve them breakfast.They speak of another home where the resident dropped his hot oatmeal into his lap and proceeded to try to feed himself with his hands and was ignored by staff. And the problem is all over the province. “Just over 60 per cent of homes across Ontario – and up to 91 per cent in some Toronto suburban communities – have been cited for violating some of the specific set of standards that ensure residents are well-fed, clean and free of pain, as well as dictating how homes care for incontinent residents and when they use restraints.”  

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I have been concerned about the state of Banwell Gardens and concerned for the residents that live there. A quick search of the Ministry of Health’s webpage shows that with 28 citations for criteria not met, Banwell Gardens is almost 10 times the provincial average. They have safety citations that are more than 10 times the provincial average and citations for resident care and services is 12 times the provincial average.  Having been in this community now for 10 years, I can remember when the number one priority at the Tecumseh Nursing Home (now Banwell Gardens) was resident care and NOT the bottom line.  The management of that facility is not happy with me at the moment and it has caused us to part ways. Our church has had a relationship with that home for 50 plus years. Sadly, as I see it, the residents are once again the people who pay the price.

The frightening part is that this home is one of many with similar problems. In June of this year another of Revera’s homes had a resident’s family wait 14 hours before their on-call physician came to issue a death certificate. The Toronto Star article which exposed this problem stated that after the elderly woman died, “her family stayed with {her} body which, without air-conditioning on a humid day, had started decomposing. Kundhal says the belly was swelling and the body discolouring. At 9 a.m., Kundhal [ the deceased’s daughter] went to arrange for the funeral. She came back at noon and what she saw shocked her. "She was green, her face and neck was bloated. There was fluid coming out of the nose and her belly had become so big, and it smelled so bad you couldn’t stand in the room."  What have we come to? The state of how we treat those to whom we owe the most is appalling. We simply cannot allow these things to go on. The people who manage these facilities need to be held accountable. This is what happens when we turn people into a commodity. When the care of the weak and the vulnerable to placed in the hands of ‘for profit’ institutions we need not be surprised that the standard of care diminishes. It is not good enough and we need to demand better.

I can argue that we must demand that government take action because it is a matter of justice. Another argument I might make is from a faith perspective.  I would say that the God to whom I pray demands that we stick close to the weak, the broken and the lonely. We need to be the voice of our seniors when their voice is too weak or when it is ignored. And if those motivators are not enough for us, I would then remind us all what Mr. Goddard said those many years ago.  One day it could be me whose diaper will not be changed, whose meds are not administered, who’s unnecessarily restrained for too long a time, who is left to fend for myself when I cannot lift an arm let alone feed myself. And when I am in that place, who will fight for me? Ask yourself that question. It is frightening. We have to demand more for our elders.