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People with developmental disabilities in Ontario more likely to die young, report suggests

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People with developmental disabilities are more likely than the non-disabled to encounter problems with Ontario’s health-care system regardless of age, sex or class, a new study suggests.

The research from the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences found those with developmental disabilities were significantly more likely to die young, languish in hospital without plans for appropriate aftercare, spend time in long-term care, or have repeat hospitalizations and emergency room visits than their non-disabled peers.

The study, compiled by researchers from ICES, the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, said the findings held true regardless of what disability was specifically at play. They also transcended a variety of boundaries that usually serve as strong predictors of poor health outcomes, such as age and socioeconomic status.

Elizabeth Lin, CAMH scientist and co-lead author of the study, which was released Thursday, said the data suggests the presence of a developmental disability is the factor that leaves people most vulnerable.

“There’s something about developmental disabilities in and of itself that appears to be contributing to these higher rates of the outcomes that we looked at,” Lin said in a telephone interview.

The researchers surveyed the medical records of more than 64,000 Ontario residents with a range of developmental disabilities, including autism and Down syndrome, and analyzed data compiled between 2010 and 2016.

Disproportionate impact 

In each of the negative health outcomes the researchers analyzed, they found a disproportionate impact on the developmentally disabled population.

Lin said what shocked her the most during the course of the research was the early mortality rate, which researchers defined as dying before the age of 75.

Across all age groups, income brackets and sexes, the early mortality rate of 1.6 per cent prevailing in the non-disabled population soared to 6.1 per cent for the developmentally disabled. That number doubled to 12.3 per cent for those with Down syndrome.

The study found 34.5 per cent of disabled people had to visit an emergency room more than once in a 30-day stretch compared to 19.6 for the non-disabled. The pattern held for repeat hospital stays in a 30-day period, where the findings showed 7.4 per cent for the disabled and 2.3 per cent for those without a disability.

The data indicates a phenomenon known as alternate level of care, in which someone spends at least one day in hospital despite being medically cleared for release, only impacts 0.7 per cent of the non-disabled population. That figure jumped to 4.6 per cent for those with developmental disabilities.

In the age groups included in the survey, which ranged from 19 to 64, only 0.2 per cent of non-disabled people spend at least a day in a long-term care home. For the disabled, that figure was 3.5 per cent.

One of those impacted was Teresa Pocock, who spent a brief stint in an Ontario nursing home despite being just 49 at the time.

“It was terrible,” said Pocock, who now lives with family and pursues art in Vancouver. “I don’t like it.”

The report did not explore the causes of the numerous gaps in care, but researchers and those with lived experience of navigating the health system with a developmental disability said the reasons are complex.

Yona Lunsky, director of CAMH’s Azrieli Adult Neurodevelopmental Centre, said there’s widespread ignorance in the medical field about the ways developmental disabilities manifest themselves.

In sessions she’s conducted with emergency room staff, for instance, she’s repeatedly heard that disabled patients are rare arrivals. After viewing teaching videos of common scenarios, however, session participants say they come across such situations more often than they realized.

‘I don’t think we’ve been as accommodating as we can’

Lunsky said society’s disproportionate focus on developmentally disabled children may be at the heart of some of the misconceptions.

Health-care professionals are not trained to recognize developmental disabilities and provide appropriate care in adulthood, she said, adding they often expect their patients to show symptoms and behaviours based on stereotypes they’ve long grown past.

But stigma also plays a role, she said, adding people with invisible disabilities may not be willing or able to communicate their situations in environments they’ve found unsupportive in the past.

“I don’t think we’ve been as accommodating as we can to give that message to people that says, ‘we want to know about what your unique needs are so that we can accommodate them,” she said. “Some people, at least, are thinking, ‘I’m going to be treated worse if I make it obvious that I have this disability, or I’m not going to get the care that I need.”‘

The report contains numerous recommendations for the health-care and social sectors, including:

  • Giving people with disabilities a more prominent voice in their own care.
  • Establishing more supports to keep people out of long-term care for longer.
  • Setting up reviews in early mortality cases to determine the causes.

Such actions would be welcome to Alex Haagaard, who is autistic and uses a wheelchair. She, too, noted that stereotypes across the spectrum of abilities can lead to lasting harm.

“When you’re perceived as not competent, you’re denied autonomy and the ability to take control over your own decisions in relation to your health,” she said. “If you try to assert your own control, they assume you don’t actually need support.”

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List of Tourist Attractions Open Now in Ottawa

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With Ontario now in Step 3 of 2021 three-step plan for reopening, museums and other indoor attractions are allowed to reopen with capacity limited to not exceed 50 per cent capacity indoors and 75 per cent capacity outdoors.

Here is a list of Ottawa attractions you can visit starting July 16th.

Do remember to wear masks and buy tickets in advance.

Parliament Hill

Parliament’s Centre Block and Peace Tower are closed for renovation.

You can join for tours of the Senate of Canada Building (2 Rideau Street), House of Commons at West Block (111 Wellington Street) on Parliament Hill, and East Block at East Block (111 Wellington Street) on Parliament Hill.

When: Grounds open; guided tours of Parliament are suspended through the summer of 2021.
Where: 111 Wellington Street, Downtown Ottawa

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Ottawa performer leapfrogs from gymnastics to Broadway to TV

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A new AppleTV+ series set in a magical town that’s stuck in a neverending 1940s musical includes a pair of Ottawa siblings in the cast. 

Warren Yang and his sister, Ericka Hunter, play two of the singing, dancing residents of the village portrayed in Schmigadoon!, a small-screen series that takes its cues from classic musicals like Brigadoon, Wizard of Oz and Sound of Music, and skewers them with the offbeat comedic mastery of Saturday Night Live. 

In fact, you’ll recognize many of the names from SNL, starting with executive producer Lorne Michaels, creator of the late-night, live-comedy sketch show. Schmigadoon! also stars SNL cast member Cecily Strong and comedian Keegan-Michael Key, who hosted SNL in May. They play a New York couple who get lost on a hike and stumble into a strange town where everyone sings and dances. 

For Yang, a relative newcomer to show-biz, the series marks his television debut. For Hunter, the younger of his two older sisters, it’s the latest in a career path that began with dance lessons as a child more than 30 years ago. She attended Canterbury High School, Ottawa’s arts-focused secondary school. 

“Her dream was always to perform,” said Yang, 34, in an interview. “But that was never the path I thought was an option for me.” 

While his sister studied dance, Yang did gymnastics. He was an elite gymnast throughout his youth, ultimately leaving Merivale High School at 16 to train in Montreal, finishing high school through correspondence courses. He was a member of the Canadian National Team and received a scholarship to study at Penn State, majoring in marketing. 

A few years after graduation, Yang was working at an advertising agency in Toronto when he got a call from a Manhattan number. To his astonishment, they asked if he would be interested in auditioning for a Broadway revival of Miss Saigon.

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COVID-19: uOttawa to require vaccination for students living in residence

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Vaccination will be mandatory for students who want to live in residence at the University of Ottawa this year, with proof of vaccination and at least one dose required before move-in, or within two weeks of doing so if they can’t secure a shot before arriving.

Those who can’t receive a vaccine for “health-related reasons or other grounds protected under the Ontario Human Rights Code” will be able to submit a request for accommodation through the university’s housing portal, according to information on the university’s website.

Students with one dose living in residence will also have to receive their second dose “within the timeframe recommended by Ottawa Public Health.”

People who haven’t been granted an exemption and don’t get vaccinated or submit proof of having done so by the deadlines set out by the school will have their residence agreements terminated, uOttawa warns.

“Medical and health professionals are clear that vaccination is the most (effective) means of protecting people and those around them,” reads a statement provided to this newspaper by uOttawa’s director of strategic communications, Patrick Charette.

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“It is precisely for this reason that the University of Ottawa is requiring all students living in residence for the 2021-2022 academic year to be fully vaccinated. The University recognizes that some students may require accommodations for a variety of reasons and will be treating exceptions appropriately.”

Faculty, staff and students are also strongly encouraged to get vaccinated, the statement notes.

“Ensuring a high vaccine coverage in all communities is critical to ensuring an ongoing decline in cases and ending the pandemic. This will be especially important with the return of students to post-secondary institutions in our region in the fall of 2021.”

Neither Carleton University nor Algonquin College is currently mandating vaccination for students living in residence, according to the websites for both schools. But uOttawa isn’t alone in its policy – Western University, Trent University, Durham College and Fanshawe College have all implemented similar requirements. Seneca College, in the GTA, is going even further, making vaccination mandatory for students and staff to come to campus, in-person, for the fall term.

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