Tag: Health / Medical
Plan Well Guide’s Toolkit for Legal Practitioners: Helping You Help Your Clients Plan for Incapacity
Last year, my colleague Nick Esterbauer blogged about the Plan Well Guide – a free online tool to assist individuals with their advance care planning. An advance care plan sets out how a person wishes to be treated during a serious illness or health crisis. The Plan Well Guide helps users to create a ‘Dear Doctor’ Letter explaining their values and preferences with respect to their future medical care, which can then be given to their physician and substitute decision-makers to ensure that their wishes are known. For a more in-depth look at the Plan Well Guide and the process of creating a Dear Doctor letter, you can read Nick’s blog here.
Recently, the Plan Well Guide launched a new toolkit designed for legal practitioners. This free online toolkit is intended to help lawyers help their clients become better prepared for future serious illness and incapacitation. In addition to various educational resources for both lawyers and their clients, the toolkit includes:
- a sample power of attorney for personal care;
- a sample advanced health care directive;
- a sample personal directive;
- a sample ‘Dear Doctor’ letter; and
- a step-by-step guide on how lawyers can incorporate the Plan Well Guide into their practice.
Of course, the sample legal documents contained in the toolkit should be amended to reflect the client’s specific set of circumstances and the laws of the applicable jurisdiction.
What I like most about the Plan Well Guide’s new toolkit is that it highlights the importance of a multidisciplinary approach to advance care planning. An effective advance care plan – that is, a plan which facilitates medical substitute decision-making that is consistent with the incapable person’s actual values and preferences – depends on the collaborative efforts of a person’s lawyers, doctors, and substitute decision-makers. The Plan Well Guide and its new toolkit offer accessible ways for legal professionals, health care professionals, and their clients/patients to coordinate their efforts to make serious illness planning more effective. If a lawyer is interested in improving the quality of future medical decision-making and patient outcomes for their clients, the Plan Well Guide’s toolkit for legal practitioners is certainly worth looking into.
Thanks for reading!
Jennifer Philpott’s blog post on the Initial Recommendations from Ontario’s Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission explains that the mandate of the Ontario Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission (the “Commission”) is “to investigate how and why COVID-19 spread in long-term care (“LTC”) homes, what was done to prevent the spread, and the impact of key elements of the existing system on the spread.”
As noted in our previous blog post, Hull & Hull LLP recognizes and commends the Commission, led by the Honourable Justice Frank N. Marrocco, with John E. Callaghan and Kate McGrann as Commission Co-Lead Counsel, for their hard work and efforts towards protecting some of the most vulnerable citizens in our province.
Since the Commission’s First Interim Letter dated October 23, 2020, over 100 homes are experiencing an outbreak and more than 300 residents have died. On December 4, 2020, the Commission released their Second Interim Letter which focuses on resident care and on in-home leadership, and provides the Ministry of Long-Term Care (the “Ministry”) with various the following recommendations:
- Leadership and Accountability in Long-Term Care Homes
The Commission notes that the fundamental principle in the Long-Term Care Home Act states that
“A home is primarily the home of its residents and is to be operated so that it is a place where they may live with dignity and in security, safety, and comfort and have their physical, psychological, social, spiritual and cultural needs adequately met.”
The Commission emphasized that leadership matters. They found that in homes where leaders were visible and provided clarity around staff roles and responsibilities fared better than those where the leadership was less engaged.
Amongst other things, the Commission found that there was confusion around who was responsible for maintaining resident quality of care in LTC homes during the pandemic and that it was unclear as to whose responsibility it was in the LTC home’s leadership team of the Executive Director, Director of Nursing and Personal Care and Medical Director. The Commission also found that these leaders were not always accessible or on-site.
The Commission recommended that there should be a clear lead for quality of care amongst the leadership team of the Executive Director, Director of Nursing and Personal Care and Medical Care in each LTC home, and that this individual must be on-site each day in a full-time position and should be held accountable for resident quality of care. Further, the Commission noted that the Province should provide the financial resources necessary to effectively support the lead for quality of care in carrying of their role and responsibilities.
- Performance Indicators
The Commission recommended using performance indicators to assess each home’s readiness to prevent and manage COVID-19 outbreaks. Specifically, the Commission found that while the current six clinical indicators tracked in the LTC home performance reports are a good first step in advancing transparency and flagging issues in LTC homes, this data does not provide other important insight on the quality of care received by residents and their experience in the home.
The Commission noted that indicators in areas of staffing (such as staffing mix, ration of residents to staff and ration of residents to staff with clinical expertise, level of staff engagement, etc.), PPE supplies and resident and family satisfaction with care at the home should be monitored and publically reported.
The Commission recommended that the LTC home performance reports should include performance metrics such as resident and family satisfaction, staff engagement, staging levels, and supply of PPE, as well as recommended that the home performance reports be publically posted in a single and centralized location and be updated more frequently, so that the public and other homes can assess and compare homes to one another as well as search and access a comprehensive picture of each home’s performance.
The Commission also recommended focused inspections to assess compliance with measures known to reduce the impact of the virus. Specifically, several issues have surfaced that the Commission believes require urgent attention, including:
1. The discontinuance of Resident Quality Inspections (“RQIs”) in all LTC homes
Although in 2013, the Ministry of Labour, Training, Skills and Developed (“MLTSD”) recognized that comprehensive inspections would help identify systemic issues and committed to completing an RQI in every home by the end of 2014, in response to the Auditor General’s 2015 recommendation “to prioritize comprehensive inspections based on LTC homes’ complaints and critical incidents and other risk factors”, in order to clear a backlog of almost 3,000 complaints and critical incident inspections, the Ministry introduced a risk-based approach to inspection. Although all LTC homes were still to be inspected every year, 329 LTC homes received an RQI in 2018, 27 homes received an RQI in 2019 and from March 1 to October 15, 2020 only 11 LTC homes received a proactive inspection. This reduction in RQIs, which are intended to provide a holistic review of operations in the homes, left the Ministry with an incomplete picture of the state of Infection Prevention and Control (“IPAC”) and emergency preparedness.
The Commission recommended to reintroduce annual Resident Quality Inspections for all LTC homes and require all reactive inspections occurring during the pandemic to include an IPAC Program review. The Commission also recommended that the Ministry request an appropriate funding in the upcoming 2021 provincial budget to hire and train inspectors to implement annual RQIs.
The Commission was also concerned with the lack of enforcement and follow-up verification of compliance with Orders issued by the Ministry. From 2018 to 2020, Plan of Care has been identified as the top area of non-compliance identified from complaint inspections. The Commission noted that IPAC issues rarely made it to the list of the top ten areas of non-compliances, showing that it was rarely a focus of any inspections.
The Commission recommended that the Ministry improve enforcement by prioritizing timely responses to non-compliance with IPAC and Plan of Care Orders.
3. Coordination of Inspections
The commission noted that there was an absence of a cohesive approach to inspections completed by the MLTC, MLTSD and Public Health Units, which likely occurred because inspectors from all three organizations tend to carry out their duties independently. This disjointed approached proved detrimental for IPAC in LTC homes and with the near elimination of RQIs and minimal inspections initiated by IPAC complaints or critical incidents, LTC inspections provided little help in proactively identifying and dressing aps in infection control inside homes.
The Commission recommended that steps be taken to eliminate the siloed approach to MLTC, MLTSD and Public Health inspections through cross-training, the establishment of a centralized system of report sharing and inspector teams to address specific cross-cutting issues.
Thank you for reading.
Ontario’s Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission (the “Commission”) was formed in July 2020. The Commission’s mandate is “to investigate how and why COVID-19 spread in long-term care homes, what was done to prevent the spread, and the impact of key elements of the existing system on the spread.”
The Commission’s work is unique as it is conducting inquiries and providing recommendations to the Government of Ontario on an ongoing basis. Led by The Honourable Justice Frank N. Marrocco and Commission Counsel, John E. Callaghan and Kate McGrann, the Commission has met with over 200 individuals including experts, associations, unions, long-term care home operators, residents, families, and government officials. The Commission’s final report is due in April 2021.
The Commission’s First Interim Letter was released on October 23, 2020 and provided the following recommendations for the Ministry of Long-Term Care (the “Ministry”) to consider:
(1) Increase Staffing
Prior to the COVID-19 Pandemic, staffing challenges in long-term care facilities were well documented (for instance, in The Honourable Justice Eileen Gillese’s 2019 report of the Public Inquiry into the Safety and Security of Residents in the Long-Term Care System). The Commission recommends that the Ministry ensure that recruitment of long-term care staff focuses on diverse hiring practices to meet it’s residents’ acuity and complex care needs.
Further, the Commission recommends that more full-time care positions are created to increase stability amongst and retention of staff, which would further the continuity of care for residents. The Commission suggests that the Ministry implement the findings of its Long-Term Care Staffing Study, which was released in July 2020. These findings include providing at least four hours of direct care per resident per day and increasing funding to hire more nurses and PSWs to increase the staff to resident ration in long-term care facilities.
The Commission acknowledged that family members and caregivers play an essential role and provide “not just physical care needs but the psycho-social well-being of residents.” In that regard, the Commission recommends that long-term care facilities provide family members and caregivers “ongoing, safe and managed access to long-term care residents.”
(2) Strengthen Healthcare Sector Relationships and Collaboration
From its inquiries, the Commission uncovered that communities where long-term care facilities had pre-existing relationships with hospitals and public health units were better equipped to prevent or control COVID-19 outbreaks. On this basis, the Commission recommends that long-term care facilities likely to encounter difficulties (i.e. high infection rates in the community; past outbreaks; etc.) should implement a “collaboration model” between the facility, local hospital(s), and public health unit(s). The Commission’s letter urges the Ministry and the Ministry of Health to take a proactive approach and facilitate the collaboration model through defined supports and surge capacity for each long-term care home.
(3) Improve Infection Prevention and Control (“IPAC”) Measures
The Commission’s investigation revealed that adherence to IPAC measures is key in order to prevent community spread of COVID-19 into long-term care facilities and between staff and residents. The Commission recommends that long-term care facilities designate an IPAC lead. The IPAC lead would be responsible for monitoring, evaluating, and ensuring compliance with protocols. The IPAC lead would provide training to staff and access the local IPAC centre of expertise as necessary. The Commission strongly recommends that in the short term, inspectors from the Ministry, local public health unit(s), and others who can be trained should be sent into long-term care homes to ensure that proper IPAC protocols are being followed.
Residents of long-term care facilities are at a greater risk of contracting severe illness and death from COVID-19 than other populations. Consequently, the Commission suggests that residents and staff receive priority access to testing and faster results. If residents test positive for COVID-19, the Commission recommends that long-term care homes, hospitals, and public health units formulate plans to allow residents to transfer to an alternative setting in order to isolate from others and recover from the virus.
Hull & Hull LLP commends the efforts of the Commission for its proactive efforts towards protecting the most vulnerable citizens of our province. A follow-up blog will be released in the coming weeks summarizing the Commission’s recommendations from its Second Interim Letter.
Thank you for reading.
Estate planning lawyers have both the privilege and the responsibility of providing guidance and advice to clients while they are at key stages in their lives. A good lawyer’s role involves turning a client’s mind to the future and planning for turbulent times before they arise. As one grows old and the risk of serious illness increases, it is important to consider difficult medical decisions that will need to be made, and the impact those decisions might have on your loved ones. Lawyers can help in this preparation, for example with naming a substitute decision-maker who can help direct doctors when the patient becomes incapable, as well as by drafting advanced care directives that lay out the wishes of the patient regarding treatment of serious illness and the extent that life-prolonging measures should be used. While such “advanced care directives” have no legal standing in Ontario, they are still important in that they can provide crucial guidance to decision-makers and medical practitioners when drafted correctly. On the other hand, they could be confusing to decision-makers and hinder medical professionals when drafted in an inflexible manner.
The Lawyer’s Role
Firstly, the language of these directives should be directed to the patient’s decision-maker, and not to the medical practitioner. They should be drafted as advice and guidance to the decision-maker, and not as rigid rules that a medical professional might feel obligated (but not legally compelled) to follow. This is crucial as any lawyer drafting such a document should appreciate the “shared decision-making” model between patient and doctor. Important medical decisions are not made in a vacuum and the availability of different treatment options as well as the weight of their risks and benefits can vary with changing circumstances. It is difficult for a rigid legal document to accommodate the nuances of such a complex situation, but one that supports and guides a decision-maker in their conversations with medical professionals can be extremely valuable. With skilful drafting, the two-way decision-making process between doctor and substitute decision-maker can be facilitated, instead of hindered.
The drafting of advanced care directives should be centered around the values and preferences of the patient as opposed to specific treatment options. The American Bar Association advises that there should not be a focus on specific clinical intervention for “distant hypothetical situation” but rather on the patient’s “values, goals, and priorities in the event of worsening health”.
Finally, the planning process for important medical decisions regarding serious illness requires input from both doctors and lawyers to ensure treatment directions can be drafted with the nuance required for complex medical situations. The ABA suggests that “lawyers and health professionals should aim for greater coordination of advance care planning efforts”, and such collaboration will help clients and decision-makers be as prepared as possible to make informed decisions.
The Client’s Role
When it comes to what clients can do, while preparing a legal document is an important step, it should be reinforced by candid conversations with decision-makers, family, and friends. This significantly eases the burden on decision-makers, as they can carry out their role in stressful situations with the peace of mind that they are not second-guessing their loved one’s wishes when it comes to treatment.
Another way clients and their decision-makers can prepare for the future is by consulting resources that facilitate the planning process. An example of such a resource is planwellguide.com, which provides guidance on important issues from choosing a substitute decision-maker, to elaborating on the pros and cons of different care options, to specific factors to consider when making an advanced care plan.
A Gift of Great Value
While the lawyer’s skill in drafting is important to making an effective plan, a lawyer’s role can extend past legal documents and into transmitting a forward-thinking approach to clients. This approach requires careful consideration and reflection on the part of the client regarding their values and priorities when faced with serious illness, as well as having frank conversations with loved ones. While having these types of conversations may not be the most merry activity over the holiday period, giving a loved one that peace of mind is a gift of immeasurable value.
Thank you for reading!
Ian Hull and Sean Hess