As society settles into an emergency measures state during the COVID-19 pandemic, survival of the fittest peaks its ugly head. Not only are we contemplating whose body is more resilient if we must ration medical interventions, we are also competing on the rights front putting our most vulnerable at the bottom of the list of priorities, especially those at the intersection of race and disability. Disability rights champions like Helen Henderson, Bill McQueen, Don Peuramaki, Ing Wong-Ward and Sandra Carpenter are cringing at us saying “never, never let the rights we fought all our lives for be undermined today when we are not here”.
We went from warehousing individuals with disabilities in large hospital-like institutions to creating smaller congregate living environments. We rebranded nursing homes as long-term care homes, both public and private, socially acceptable to warehouse and institutionalize “the aged and infirmed”. We put supports in the community to help people remain in their own homes or with family caregivers.
22% of Canadians are estimated to have a disability a percentage of whom are deemed at a higher risk of contracting Covid19 with fatal consequences. Many individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities and some with complex care needs live in group homes not choosing who they live with but rather are chosen and told who to live with by the system.
Workers in facilities and in the community providing care are often overworked and underpaid. They are forced to take-on 2 or 3 part-time jobs to make enough income to pay their bills. The disproportionate number of casualties resulting from Covid19 are happening in care facilities. As we applaud those on the frontline of this war, let’s not forget who is vulnerable. The virus is entering facilities by staff and visitors, not by residents. As staff move from facility to facility, they carry the risk of infecting others.
The risk isn’t much different in community care where people live in their own homes or with their families and personal support workers come regularly to bathe, feed and provide some respite to family caregivers. Again, they are going from apartment to apartment, house to house, potentially exposing vulnerable individuals to this deadly virus who are otherwise isolated and have limited control over who comes to provide critical care. Even when exposed, they are not tested without symptoms and continue providing vital personal care services.
Proper equipment, training and protocols are necessary and should be prioritized for personal care services. However, what does it say about a society, about humanity, when care providers choose to walk-out leaving vulnerable individuals to suffer the consequences? Personal care should be designated an essential service barring walkouts or any type of strike action. This is where the rights of vulnerable persons should trump the rights of workers.