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Ont. seniors separated in long-term care pushing for right to remain together

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After six decades of marriage, Shirley and Jim Potts spent the last year of Shirley’s life separated.

“[I] hated it, just hated it,” Jim Potts says, becoming emotional. “And so did she.”

Because of her health, Shirley was moved from Fairview Mennonite Home in Cambridge, Ont. – where Jim still lives – to a long-term care home 25 minutes away.

They tried to reunite for nearly a year before she passed away in February.

Now Jim is trying to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen to others.

He’s among several Waterloo Region seniors putting pressure on the province to make Waterloo MPP Catherine Fife’s Bill 21, dubbed the ‘Till Death Do Us Part Act,’ a reality. The legislation would eliminate spousal separation in Ontario’s long-term care home system, ensuring couples have the right to remain together.

“I don’t want the cruelty to continue,” Fife says, speaking to CTV News Wednesday.

Jim McLeod (left), Carol Beaver (centre) and Jim Potts live in Fairview Mennonite Home in Cambridge. McLeod and Beaver are fighting to be reunited with their spouses. Potts' wife died in a separate long-term care home in February. (Spencer Turcotte/CTV News)

She’s been fighting for the legislation since 2019. It passed a second reading eight months ago, but there’s been no movement since.

“The province is basically displaying pure ageism, they're saying you know what, this is not a priority,” Fife says. “It’s now been 250 days, where it has been sitting at social policy committee, and the bill has yet to be called.”

In an email to CTV News, a spokesperson for the ministry says in part: “The bill does not include care requirements for reunification, meaning spouses with minimal care needs — or who do not need long-term care at all — could be pushed toward the top of the waitlist at the expense of others in urgent need of care.”

The statement goes on to say: “The measures already included in the Fixing Long-Term Care Act, 2021, provide an appropriate balance that considers the desire for spousal reunification with the importance of serving those with the greatest care needs.”

OTHER COUPLES WAITING FOR TRANSFERS

Another Fairview resident, Jim McLeod, has been separated from his wife Joan for nearly six years.

“You almost get to the point where you're used to it, but it's not good,” Jim McLeod says.

While Jim lives independently at Fairview, Joan needed a spot in long-term care after suffering several strokes. Even though there are long-term care rooms where Jim lives, Joan hasn’t been able to get one. Instead, she’s at Hilltop Manor in Galt.

The separation has been a strain.

“First of all, her vision is very poor. So I quite often get phone calls during the day, ‘I don't know where this is, I can't find that, I can't find something else,’” he says.

Carol Beaver, who also lives at Fairview, is in a similar situation.

Her husband of 62 years, Bob, is at another facility. She’s been pushing for a transfer.

“I said, 'How long do you think that might take?' They're the people that know, supposedly, [they said] 'oh, maybe four to five years.’ I said ‘I'll be dead by then.’"

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