The LCO’s proposed new legal framework for laws affecting older adults got the thumbs up from 30 representatives of government, academia, advocacy and community organizations, the legal community and service providers attending a stakeholder event November 2 in Toronto.
“This is our opportunity to have our voices heard,” says Donna Fairley, executive director of the Ontario Association of Residents’ Councils (OARC) of the LCO’s draft framework released in August as part of the project’s interim report. “There are gaps in the current laws when it comes to safeguarding residents in our long-term care homes. It’s not enough to just meet our residents’ physical needs; we must also meet their emotional, their social and their legal needs.”
Fairley participated in the day-long event, which brought together a multidisciplinary group of stakeholders involved with older adults and asked them to take a hard look at the principles underlying the LCO’s preliminary plans.
“They really dug in,” says LCO Staff Lawyer Lauren Bates, “and made suggestions about how the principles applied to their group.”
The LCO’s draft framework is built on six principles for an anti-ageist approach to the law, including the need to foster autonomy and independence, and the recognition of the importance of security. Working in small groups, the event participants took a close look at each of the principles, making suggestions and, in some cases, rewriting definitions to ensure every principle applies to every sector of older adults, from those representing diverse cultures, to older adults with disabilities and those living in long-term care.
“During the focus group with residents, the message we heard was: ‘You may have rights as individuals, but when you’re in long-term care, institutional policies take precedence,’” says Fairley. “Residents’ needs are fit into the home’s schedule instead of the other way around.” She sees the LCO’s principles as helping to guide the creation of new institutional policies and practices that respect the unique needs, priorities and rights of long-term care residents.
“They really embraced the six principles we had identified,” says Bates of the stakeholder group. “There was real support for basing our framework on these principles.”
Bates is now working to merge feedback from this event with that from other consultations hosted this fall. Between August and November, the LCO led five focus groups — including one involving OARC’s Board of Directors, comprised entirely of long-term care residents — a questionnaire involving more than 200 respondents, and received submissions from stakeholders province-wide. The results will be integrated into a final report for release in 2012.
“I have high hopes that our new framework will help to guide legal reform,” say Bates. It might also be the basis for new policies and procedures being developed by service providers and other private actors.
“The law isn’t just what’s written on paper. It’s also what is practiced. If these principles help to change practice, then that’s as much of the success story as statutory reform.”