Family calls for provincial seniors advocate after father lives in long-term care

The family of a man who lived in long-term care in Thunder Bay, Ont., for six years, says there needs to be a provincial advocate for seniors.

Shelley Wark-Martyn, the former MPP for the Port Arthur (now Thunder Bay — Superior North) riding said there needs to be more dignity for seniors who live in long term care.

“We’ve certainly seen our dad go in there, and we knew, ‘oh, shoot, we’re doomed.'”

Her father, James Wark, had dementia and needed assistance. He was 78 when he died. 

Kathy Antier, Wark-Martyn’s sister, said she was concerned about the level of care seniors were receiving.

“When he started out, my dad could go to the washroom on his own,” she said. “Their plan is to get them right away into the diapers. They no longer have control of that. You just go in your pants, and they’re told to do that.”

“I would go there numerous times, and they would tell them to go in their pants, but they don’t change them. He’d be [soaking] wet. They had him up for breakfast [soaking] wet.”

“He had a little window he could peek out when we were leaving, and he would cry,” Antier continued. “[It was] hard on us — very hard on us to say goodbye to him there. But, when they’re not being looked after, and you know they’re not being looked after, it’s even harder.”

Antier was able to get her father moved to another nursing home on Thunder Bay’s south side. The move confused her father, who, at times, could be mildly aggressive, she said.

James Wark died after living in long term care in Thunder Bay, Ont., for six years. His daughters want the province to create an advocate for seniors living in long term care homes.(Shelley Wark-Martyn)

Antier said her father would be sedated at times, and would often be given medication for seizures. She had concerns that staff at the facility were more than happy to medicate him, to essentially sedate him. 

Wark-Martyn said it seemed as if staff were using medications to make their jobs easier.

When they go into long term care, and certainly the message we got was, ‘your dad is here to die.’– Shelley Wark-Martyn

“My dad had a ton of dignity. He was always dressed well. We’d go there and he’d have food all over his face. How hard is it to wash somebody’s face after they eat?”

“We put our parents into long term care so they can still have the best years of their life. I think, when they go into long term care, and certainly the message we got was, ‘your dad is here to die.'”

“So, the quicker we can make this happen, the easier it’s going to be for everyone. So, let’s put him in the wheelchair. Let’s sedate him, let’s not dress him in his regular clothes, we can put him in pyjamas all day long.”

“They would try to feed him when he didn’t need to be fed. He just took a little longer to eat.”


Antier said the final straw was when she was contacted by the home, and that her father had been unresponsive for two days. The physician at the home said it was a tumour. The actual reason was much easier to treat.

“He was dehydrated, he was dehydrated so much,” she said.

Antier said it took three bags of fluid at the hospital to get her father to be able to give a urine sample.

“He wasn’t able to request water, but if you put water in front of him, he would drink it. So, we had a meeting with [the home] then and said he’s dehydrated, you have to give him water. And the doctor’s response to that was, ‘you can’t expect my staff to be giving him water.’ Why not?”

“So, we hired somebody to go everyday to give my dad fluids.– Kathy Antier

Antier said she’s unsure if the home didn’t want to give her father fluids as there was a staff shortage, if staff simply didn’t want to or if they did not want to have to change him as often if he didn’t drink.

“So, we hired somebody to go everyday to give my dad fluids. Everyday somebody was there to provide my dad with at least four glasses of fluids. Shouldn’t have to.”

Advocate request

Wark-Martyn said she and her sister were able to keep a close eye on her dad. She worries for people who may be living in a community without family, and would not have somebody to advocate for them.

“We had to do it,” she said. “We were surprised by the number of times we had to do it for simple things.”

Wark-Martyn said she has looked over her father’s medical files, finding numerous times bloodwork was missed or items seemed peculiar. She said that alone should call for a provincial body to oversee how people are cared for.

Provincial response

The Ministry of Health and Long Term Care declined to do a recorded interview, but did provide an e-mail response to CBC News.

The ministry said it follows up on complaints made about long term care facilities, prioritizing calls dealing with abuse or neglect of seniors.

Ministry officials said they received 4,748 calls last year regarding long term care, although some of those calls were for information only.

Antier said calls she made to the ministry have, so far, gone unanswered. She said she’s hopeful that the province will do something to protect those in long term care.

“It’s not going to help my dad but there’s other people,” she said. “I can sit there and watch as I fed my dad, how others were being treated, that didn’t have anyone to advocate for them.”

“We want it changed,” Wark-Martyn added.

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