Skip to content

'Cruel and unacceptable:' Cambridge council supports effort to keep spouses together in long-term care

Jim McLeod, who has been separated from wife for six years, applauds council's move
Jim McLeod stands with a binder full of letters and emails he has sent to Ontario MPPs to help reunite him and his wife in long-term care

This article was first published by Cambridge Today, a Village Media publication.

Calling the province's current Long Term Care Act "cruel, wrong and unacceptable," council voted unanimously in support of motion asking the province to advance a bill tabled last year designed to keep spouses together in long-term care homes.

In its current form, the Long Term Care Act doesn't give couples the right to be accommodated together when entering long term care facilities. It's a practice that has forced many couples across the province to live apart as beds become scarcer.

Last year, Waterloo NDP MPP Catherine Fife presented Bill 21, the Fixing Long-Term Care Amendment Act, also known as the 'Till Death Do Us Part Act, to give long-term care residents the right to be housed together.

It's the third attempt by Fife to change the legislation, but soon after its second reading last November it was pushed to a social policy committee chaired by Cambridge MPP Brian Riddell where it has remained for close to a year.

Councillors Adam Cooper and Nicholas Ermeta want to change that by putting council's weight behind the effort to move the bill closer to third reading.

Tuesday's vote to support the bill does that, noting "the care, support, and happiness of older adults in Cambridge is a priority for city council."

Cooper became emotional talking about the move, saying there likely won't be a motion he's more proud to get behind than this.

"Seniors across Cambridge and across the country need and deserve respect," he said.

Cooper called the current practice to remove people from the person they love the most, "cruel" and he didn't mince words in saying he believes it's wrong and unacceptable.

"I know there's logistical problems with this, it's not as easy as it seems, but the fact is the status quo as it stands is wrong."

He implored the government to act swiftly to amend the act. 

Prior to the vote, Jim McLeod told council he and his wife of 65 years have been separated for six years because of the current state of the Long Term Care Act.

For more than five of those years, he has been attempting to get his wife Joan transferred from Hilltop Manor to Fairview Mennonite Home, where he lives in an independent apartment.

He said four of his neighbours in the home are also trying to reunite with their spouses.

"I have made, in the past six years, approximately 2,000 trips to Hilltop," he said. "I have been dealing constantly, almost every day with trying to get the government to realize that we don't require an extra room, which we know are very limited in long-term care."

Moving his wife to Fairview would create extra room at Hilltop, he said.

McLeod, who has worked with half a dozen long-term care ministers to try to resolve the issue, was at Queen's Park when Fife presented her first legislation aimed at the issue, Bill 153, in December 2019.

"It was actually put in the garbage, so to speak, 630 days later when Premier Ford paroled the legislature." Fife then presented Bill 95 in March 2022. It died when the election was called, McLeod said.

The issue was resurrected when Fife tabled the 'Till Death Do Us Part Act', also known as Bill 21, last year. 

It received second reading before it was transferred to a social policy committee now chaired by Riddell where it has sat dormant for 343 days.

Opposition to the bill has raised concerns about how it could limit capacity at long term care homes.

When long term care minister Stan Cho was in Cambridge last month to mark the groundbreaking of Fairview Mennonite Home's expansion, he spoke about the reunification issue.

"We have to be careful, especially with legislation that we are not going to have unintended consequences," Cho told CambridgeToday. 

He mentioned that tools are in place now for reunification, but it gets difficult when assisted living is involved. 

McLeod, whose wife has suffered three strokes, isn't optimistic the bill will get passed in its current state and understands it will be retabled by the PC government under another name.

Council amended Cooper's motion to reflect the idea that naming the bill would render council's support null and void if the legislation is brought forward at Queen's Park under a new name.

Coun. Scott Hamilton offered his father as an example of how connection with family helps with cognition and overall health.

Hamilton's father went into long term care due to a medical crisis and during COVID, that connection was severed. The impact was "immense." he said. "It affected all of my family and of course my dad."

"To imagine what Jim struggles with, where he has to endure that every single day, thousands of nights, it's cruel. As councillor Cooper said, it's a cruel practice."

McLeod believes council's support for spousal reunification in long-term care homes, which joins with several other municipalities across the province, is a step in the right direction.

The major issue in long term care doesn't end with spousal reunification, he added.

Bill 7, the More Beds, More Care Act, gives hospitals the power to move patients into long term care up to 70 km from their home. 

"I just want you folks to understand that this can affect all of us," McLeod said. "We're all getting older and it's a major, major problem."

push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks