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Wednesday, 09 October 2013 14:49

Long-term care for seniors in Sask. needs serious attention

Written by  Matthew Liebenberg
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For many seniors in Saskatchewan their golden years are not at all what they were hoping for when they are living in a long-term care facility.


Last week, the Saskatchewan government released a 311-page review of long-term care facilities in the province that highlighted significant concerns about care and safety issues.
There are about 8,700 residents who are living in 156 long-term care facilities or 17 long-term care units at hospitals/health centres. At any time about 250 residents are also receiving respite care in these facilities.
Health Minister Dustin Duncan ordered the review in the spring after family members of long-term care residents raised concerns at the legislature. The minister told the CEOs of health regions to carry out facility tours to get a personal view of conditions.
The picture that emerged from the review is often quite grim. Residents might only get a bath once a week, assistance will come too late to make it to a toilet in time, medication is not provided on time, they might have to get up at 5:30 a.m. or they are sent to bed at 5:30 p.m.
Food quality varies and aging facilities with narrow hallways, small bathrooms and a limited number of single rooms have an impact on the mobility and privacy of residents.
The concerns identified in the review show  issues vary significantly between individual facilities and across health regions, but insufficient staffing levels, complexity of care required and outdated infrastructure appear to be key factors behind many of the problems.
The review also highlighted positive aspects of the long-term care system, including dedicated staff, resident-centred activities and recreation programs, the involvement of residents and families in care decisions through resident and family councils, and the active involvement of volunteers at facilities.
Compared to other health regions the issues identified in the Cypress Health Region were not as severe, but there is clearly still room for improvement overall and at individual facilities.
At Cypress Lodge Nursing Home in Maple Creek a staffing enhancement will be required to address the lack of professional nursing staff between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. There is also a lower care aide-to-resident ratio at this facility compared to elsewhere in the region.
Concerns at Palliser Regional Care Centre in Swift Current include insufficient staff to provide care, difficulty to exit the building without staff assistance and a need for improved communication between staff and family.
At Wolf Willow Health Centre in Eastend, there were concerns over a lack of variety in meals, difficult access to the courtyard and staff felt low attendance of resident council meetings by residents and family members was an issue.
Easier outdoor access and standards of care were highlighted at the Foyer St. Joseph nursing home in Ponteix. The need for a review of activity schedules and regular communication with families were identified at the Herbert and District Integrated Healthcare Facility.
Residents at Prairie Health Care Centre in Cabri were satisfied with care, but they felt the facility was too institutional with no home-like atmosphere. A resident is quoted as saying that “care is good here, but this isn’t living.”
A lack of casual staff at Shaunavon Hospital and Care Centre meant staff were rushed and working short. Residents received a bath only once a week and sometimes they may even miss that. Décor changes have already been made at this facility to create a more home-like atmosphere.
Care at Prairie View Health Centre in Mankota is described as “very good most of the time” with efforts to revive the resident council.
At Swift Current Care Centre, there was dissatisfaction over meals and resident council meetings were poorly attended.
The Cypress Health review indicated the health region is in the midst of implementing numerous actions to promote resident-centred care.
There are various target dates until mid-2014 to implement patient and family centre care, including more flexible personal schedules and routines for residents as well as a consideration of resident-centred care behaviour during annual staff reviews.
Minister Duncan has expressed a commitment to address the issues identified in the review.
On Oct. 1, he announced a $10-million urgent issues action fund to address priority issues in health regions such as the purchase of equipment and training.
Another $4.5 million will be used to extend an existing pilot program from Regina Qu’Appelle to the Saskatoon and Prince Albert Parkland health regions. The aim is to provide support for seniors to stay longer in their own homes, thereby reducing the pressure on long-term care facilities.
Other measures include increased accountability from health regions through annual CEO visits to long-term care facilities, an annual quality of care survey and compulsory resident and family councils at all long-term care facilities.
The Saskatchewan NDP has identified seniors care as one of three key issues of concern to Saskatchewan families. Opposition leader Cam Broten noted in response to the review that the issue of “chronically-low” staffing levels are not addressed. He is proposing minimum staffing ratios for different levels of seniors care and that the provincial government should set key targets for care, for example the number of baths provided.
The 2011 census indicated seniors have reached a new record high of 14.8 per cent of the total Canadian population. There is still time for Saskatchewan to prepare for a growing number of retiring baby boomers.
One benefit of strong economic growth in the province has been a slight drop in the percentage of seniors from 15.4 per cent in 2006 to 14.9 per cent but at the same time Saskatchewan has the highest life expectancy in the country.
This review was an important first step, but seniors care will require ongoing political commitment and attention to prevent it from becoming an even bigger future issue when more people will require care.
Matthew Liebenberg is a reporter with the Prairie Post. Contact him with your comments about this opinion piece at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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