Donna Duncan of OLTCA Looks Back on 2021: A Year Focused on Modernizing and Expanding Long-Term Care

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We sat down for a holiday fireside chat with Donna Duncan, CEO of the Ontario Long Term Care Association, to reflect on the past year, her wishes for older Canadians and what comes next.


If you could make one holiday wish for older Canadians this year, what would it be, and why?

Holidays are a special time in long-term care homes. No matter what holiday is recognized, residents, families and staff take this moment every year to connect. Celebrations have been difficult through the COVID-19 pandemic, and as cases rise across communities including new variants of concern, we aren’t quite able to go back to normal yet. My holiday wish is that everyone is still able to find some joy in what they are able to do.  And I wish hugs for everyone.

Looking back on this year, what are some accomplishments you’re most proud of?

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a tragedy, especially in long-term care. Ontario Long Term Care Association, representing 70% of homes in the province, works closely with governments, health, education, and social services partners, and resident and family councils, to advocate for policies and supports to advance quality of care and life for Ontarians as they age.

After decades, and successive governments, we are finally beginning to address systemic structural issues with unprecedented investments by the Ontario Government to modernize and expand long-term care and our seniors’ care system, increase hours of direct care and begin to build the workforce we need now and for the future of long-term care and our ageing population.

I believe that there is remarkable agreement as to what must be done and a commitment to work together to make real progress to address the challenges that became so evident over the past 2 years. I am so proud of the depth of engagement among our members and our team, our shared commitment to navigate today’s challenges, and our focus on working together and with others to develop concrete solutions to those challenges and the future of seniors’ care. 

What do the holidays mean to you?

This is a deeply personal and emotional time for me and my family.  My mother and father were engaged on a Christmas Eve and Christmas Eve became the cornerstone of our Christmas celebrations.  My father passed away in long-term care on December 24, 2004 and my mother passed away on December 24, 2015.   Needless to say, this is always a time of reflection and remembrance for our family and is a time of celebration not only of the season and its spirit of fellowship and sharing, but also of the love and lives of our parents.

Looking to the New Year, what’s next in your work to support seniors?

Although the foundational structures of seniors’ care are largely in place, there is still much more work to be done to meet the needs of our growing population of older adults.

OLTCA and our members continue to support rebuilding and developing safe, modern long-term care homes and to build a new work force to care for our seniors, but we are also advocating for a larger discussion about reimaging long-term care and where it should fit in the broader senior’s living and care ecosystem. This will be a focus of our work in 2022, especially as the Government of Ontario proclaim its new long-term care legislation and introduces new regulations.

What’s your favourite holiday memory?

After church on Christmas Eve, we would go to my uncle’s house to celebrate with my parents, sisters and our “chosen family” friends – drink egg nog, eat roast beef sandwiches, listen to Christmas carols and exchange gifts.  We did this every Christmas Eve until my uncle passed away. My favourite memories are of those Christmas Eve celebrations.

What’s the biggest misconception you wish would change about older people?

The failure of governments across Canada and around the world to invest in services and supports for older adults, clearly reflects ageism in society.  This is, by definition, underpinned by a pervasive societal belief that older people can’t live with meaning and purpose. This manifests in many ways, including how we care for our seniors, and it is critical we address it. Laura Tamblyn Watts, leading CanAge, spoke about this on OLTCA’s podcast Coming of Age.  Let’s change that.  Let’s celebrate our seniors, support them in living life to the fullest, and let’s learn from them while we have the benefit of their experience and wisdom.


Canada’s National Seniors’ Advocacy Organization

Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work
University of Toronto

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