Standards needed for long-term care

Dear editor,

Elections should be about more than just candidates. They should also be about issues that matter to Canadians.

There are plenty of issues in this election vying for attention. Like the candidates, some will be winners, others will lose.

Unfortunately, the urgent need for national standards in long-term care — a matter of life and death — has been pushed aside, and Canadians will be the losers.

Covid-19 laid bare many things Canadians should be remorseful about in long-term care.

LTC patients went unfed and dehydrated for days because of severe and chronic staff shortages, as the military discovered at several residences in Ontario and Quebec.

They were infected by caregivers who couldn’t afford to miss work because they had no paid-sick days. Infections were carried from one institution to another because LTC staff had to work at several care giving jobs to make ends meet.

In one shocking report, the Canadian military said it suspected far too many residents at a Toronto LTC centre were dying from non-Covid-19 causes. “Residents are dying from non-COVID-19 causes more than they should be,” it said.

Canadians might feel a bit smug about how this country would appear to have done a much better job managing the pandemic than our southern neighbours.

But they should be alarmed about how LTC residents have fared compared with their counterparts in the wealthiest countries.

According to a report last March by the Canadian Institute for Health Information, Canada has the worst record for COVID-19 deaths in long-term care homes compared with other wealthy countries during the first six months of the pandemic.

CIHI found that the proportion of deaths in nursing homes represented 69 per cent of Canada’s overall COVID-19 deaths — a rate significantly higher than the international average of 41 per cent.

Between March 2020 and February 2021, more than 80,000 residents and staff members of long-term care homes in Canada were infected with Covid-19. Outbreaks occurred in 2,500 LTC facilities, resulting in the deaths of 14,000 residents.

Also disturbing was a finding in the CIHI study that across Canada, nursing home residents received less medical care, and fewer visits from doctors. There were also fewer hospital transfers when compared with other years.

Plainly speaking, long-term care residents were receiving less care at a time when they needed more, much more. This is tantamount to being disenfranchised from Canada’s sacred universal healthcare.

Perhaps it was because the average age of Canadians was just 27 when our public healthcare system was launched in 1968. We weren’t thinking about the day when our average age is closer to 50, or that 23 per cent of the population would be over 65 by 2030.

The Aug. 19 promises by the Liberals to train up to 50,000 new personal support workers, guarantee a minimum wage of $25 an hour for PSWs, introduce a Safe Long Term Care Act, and give provinces and territories $3 billion in funding to improve quality and capacity in long-term care sound encouraging.

So do NDP promises of a national care guarantee and development of national LTC standards.

But we need fulsome and detailed debate on how we can implement national standards. We need to examine such things as a national LTC transfer to go with the Canada Health Transfer so that provinces can budget for long-term solutions, standardized and accessible national LTC data collection, and a national seniors strategy.

But most importantly, in a country that now has more seniors than children, Canadians must demand that federal-provincial-territorial negotiations begin for national standards of long-term care.

No one should live like this. Canadians deserve better.

Jean-Guy Soulière is president of the National Association of Federal Retirees.

Editor’s Note: Although there were profound tragedies that took place in long-term care homes across the country, it’s worth remembering that our own Riverside Healthcare system has been a success story throughout this pandemic. An outbreak was declared on Jan 2/21 at Rainycrest LTC which ended on Jan 26. A total of three residents and one staff member tested positive during the course of this outbreak. A second outbreak was declared on Feb 27/21, when two staff members tested positive during asymptomatic surveillance testing. However, both their subsequent tests were negative and they were removed from active status. As a proactive step all residents and staff at the Home were tested, with that outbreak was lifted just days later, when all tests were returned negative. Riverside has not had COVID outbreaks at the Emo or Rainy River Health Care Long Term Care facilities and there have been no COVID deaths within any of Riverside’s LTC homes. Definitely a record worthy of pride for our District.

– Megan Walchuk

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