21 December 2017

Ageism in Ontario's health care and human rights (HRTO)

In November, 2016, I was subjected to false accusations and lies (which amounts not only to harassment/verbal abuse but also to discrimination under the Human Rights Code) in reports written by a specialist/consultant at LHSC (London Health Sciences Centre), and other employees.  I identified that incident, among others, as discrimination on the grounds of sex and age, and marital and family status, separating it into nine distinct incidents, and submitted an Application form on those grounds to the HRTO (Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario).  I named eight Respondents, one of them being the organization LHSC, the rest being individual Respondents.

Writing up this Application was complex enough. It was impossible to make all the connections that would enable a caseworker to understand at one reading what it was all about. But this was only the Application, not the hearing. And nothing stands still. Even since submitting my Application, on November 6, 2017, there have been other interactions, not in person but by mail, or email, or telephone.  The distortions of truth coming from those interactions have been more than simply frustrating. They’re enough to make a person lose faith completely not just in the human race but in the  safety or value of speaking in person to someone who might then tell lies and manipulate one. There was also the doctor who wrote to me, copying his letter, sent by standard mail, to several of his colleagues. I don’t have that option, to start sending so many letters off to people, and so am limited to using mainly email, a means of making contact that is not reliable or proof of anything except that one may be a nuisance, probably, something that may not apply so easily to a letter writer.  Then it came to be that emails themselves – not mine but other individuals - were likely being manipulated, but I had no power to stop that from happening.

It is difficult to be an older person in Ontario and not have the resources or support to fight the battle, not just against the original source of discrimination and ageism as a patient, but then with the HRTO. I don’t qualify for Legal Aid and don’t have the funds to get a lawyer or even a paralegal otherwise, as far as I know. Despite seeking the more reasonable alternative in the London area I didn’t find a paralegal who appeared to have knowledge of the complex system of human rights in Ontario. That’s different from human rights abuses that happen abroad. Here, it’s about discrimination on grounds that are listed in the Human Rights Code, such as age, sex, race, marital status, etc, that occur in education, or employment, or in areas such as goods and services.  

The woman at the HRTO Legal Centre will only say to me now, after hearing the first part of my Application (about this being about a doctor) that they don’t deal with cases about doctors’ medical decisions. That is how this situation started – regarding a medical decision made by the doctor, but it has gone way beyond that. In fact, looking back at it more objectively, I believe the main incident for the HRTO (since he has been absolved of responsibility of  treating me inadequately and carelessly) must then at least be about the damning reports the doctor wrote about me, no doubt egged on by his loyal staff.  This will get sorted out, as time goes on. It is just difficult to pull it all together when others say that’s not allowed, or that’s not the problem.

I wonder if the participants in this in entire situation were knowledgeable enough to realize that the larger they make it – the more complex and involving more people than just the doctor – the less likely it becomes that the HRTO or any other complaints system I went to would see as an issue they can resolve – or was it simply that they figured if they ganged up on me, I would give up and go away. According to the doctor’s reports, not just one or two, but all his admin staff accused me of being rude. I only recall seeing two of them – the front desk clerk and the person who showed me to my appointment, but then there was the audio clerk too. And the appointment-taker, so named because she was only the voice on the other end of the telephone, there to make – and break – appointments.

I tried to explain that at one point, probably in the Application, that part of that problem, the one with the front desk clerk, could have been a matter of perception (with discrimination as its basis).  If she, as secretary of the doctor, saw herself as above the patients – or above some patients – they may consider it rude even if the patient speaks to attempt to understand something. Treating patients as children is one form of ageism – as people not competent, or on the other hand as not worthy, being only patients in the hierarchy. Besides that, the front-desk clerk may also have had poor self-esteem, and thought I was being critical of her, which I wasn’t. I just thought that, 2 years down the road, I could try to make sure that my reports didn’t keep going to the original referring doctor. On the other hand, her behaviour (which wasn’t immediate, only coming to light weeks later) may have been done to me to turn the tables, as it were, knowing that I realized I was being shortchanged on the diagnostic test that had been offered me. Thus, accusing me of being rude, in effect, treating me like a child, was to do the opposite of what I was about to bring into the open, the fact that the doctor saw it okay to treat me, an older female, having no family close by and no husband, the way he did. Thus, by the doctor accusing me of being rude, the real reason behind my attempts to get answers about the test I was being offered, when I had already been dismissed so quickly by the doctor at the appointment, was at risk of being ignored completely.

I have been put in a situation of trying to understand why this or that happened to me, and whether it was legitimately a case of discrimination on the grounds of one or more of sex and age, and marital and family status.  And I have had to do it for every incident, of which there were nine in the Application I made – 9 incidents, 7 individuals. If the HRO believes in social justice, I hope they would make it as bearable as possible for me to engage with them in achieving a just solution.  

At this time, there is a delay in processing new Applications, I have been informed, which are taken in the order they are received.  So, meanwhile, no caseworker has been assigned to my Application, made on November 6, 2017.

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