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National standards needed in long-term care

Posted: March 31, 2021

(March 30, 2021)

By: Marie DellaVedova, The Sault Star

According to many medical and scientific experts, we have now entered the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout the first two waves approximately 4,000 people died in long-term care homes in Ontario.

The pandemic experience for long-term care residents in Canada has been especially brutal. Compared to the rates in other OECD countries Canada has had the highest proportion of deaths occurring in long-term care.

Most of these deaths were preventable. While many long-term care residents died due to COVID-19, many also died due to inadequacies of care. Now, even though most long-term care residents have received at least the first dose of the vaccine and COVID-19 cases in long-term care are decreasing, the conditions in long-term care homes that allowed COVID-19 to spread are still the same. Until those conditions are rectified, long-term care residents will continue to suffer and die, if not from COVID-19 and its variants, then from repercussions of the horrific conditions that have long persisted in long-term residential care.

The acuity levels of long-term care residents have increased dramatically over the years. More residents now have complex health care needs, including dementia and behaviour concerns. Because of staff shortages, in many long-term care homes there are simply not enough staff to feed and bathe people and keep them safe. Personal support workers are working in stressful conditions and many are forced into part time employment. Part time work has been shown to foster the spread of sickness. Also, because staff are overwhelmed, it is difficult to establish the kind of personal relationships that are important to maintaining the dignity and happiness of residents. The elderly have borne the brunt of health care policies that have cut the number of hospital and long-term care beds, staff and resources.

It is time for a complete overhaul of our long-term care system. There is a need to confront ageism which is pervasive in our culture and rampant in long-term care. Ageism undoubtedly accounts for the entrenched reluctance to fix a system that is obviously rife with injustices. We need national long-term care standards to replace the patchwork approach that exists across the country. After all, long-term care is an essential component of our health care system.

A national high-quality, public and not-for profit long-term care system that values the rights and dignity of the older person would have resident care as its priority, not profit making. It would have enough trained front line care workers to maintain an adequate minimum standard of resident care and those frontline health care workers would have full time employment with pay commensurate with the importance of their work. And it would be accountable to the Canadian public.

It will take political will to create such a system. Long-term care residents may be unable to advocate for themselves but we can act for them. It is up to us to call upon the premier, the minister of Long-Term Care and federal and provincial representatives, and make sure they all know that what is happening in long-term care is an election issue. The question is: Canada needs a national plan for long-term care homes with national standards and processes for robust accountability. How are you collaborating with other levels of government to work towards this goal?

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