Ed Ecker, 95, meets his newborn great-grandson, Brayden Shantz, through a window at St. Joseph’s Lifecare Centre in Brantford, Ont. Photo courtesy of Noelle Nieuwenhuis

Editorial: A seniors crisis

  • May 7, 2020

Before reading this editorial, take a few seconds to return to the cover of this week’s issue. That tender scene of a senior in long-term care reaching out but not touching a loved one is happening daily across Canada.

The image is tender yet sad because it illustrates the great tragedy COVID-19 has inflicted on the senior population and it chides us for letting down a generation of seniors who spent many of their adult years caring for others.

According to government data, almost 80 per cent of COVID-19 deaths in Canada have occurred in long-term care facilities. There are harrowing stories of the virus taking hold in some institutions and killing as many as half the residents, along with caregivers. Other stories reveal appalling cases of patient neglect, unsanitary conditions, overcrowding, staff shortages and insufficient stocks of protective equipment and other supplies.

On Mother’s Day, scenes of children and grandchildren blowing kisses through windows to moms and grandmoms who are isolated will be played out countless times. And there will be hundreds, if not thousands, of other cases in which bedridden seniors will be unable even to get to a window. Some will be reunited eventually with family but many will die of the virus or other causes without the comfort of a final hug and a loving goodbye.

The pandemic has exposed a great many faults in how society functions and it has revealed numerous behaviours we need to change when the virus abates. Among the most important of these is recognizing a moral obligation to provide care and support that is genuine and extensive for the elderly, particularly for seniors who are marginalized and most vulnerable.

This is not a uniquely Catholic cause but it is certainly one that Catholics must embrace and even lead. Canada’s history, stretching back to 17th-century New France, is filled with examples of Catholic leadership in providing health care and social services, of demonstrating compassion.

Indeed, when it comes to care for the elderly, there currently exists several Catholic institutions which shine in this field. They are models of how to provide non-profit, professional care that is attentive and kind, places where the elderly are not viewed as a business opportunity. Canada could do much worse than look to them for leadership.

Re-envisioning elder care is not a project to be passed off to politicians. Yes, governments will play a huge role but they are unlikely to act decisively without prompting from ordinary people, the same ordinary people who, by their years of silence, must accept some blame for today’s shameful situation. That public indifference must end.

For Catholics, becoming passionate advocates for elder care is an extension of our Christian obligation to build a culture that, without exception, embodies respect for life.

This issue is fundamental to who we are and deserving of our embrace.

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