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Wednesday, 20 May 2015 15:49

Strained long-term care system needs real effort to address shortcomings

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The family members of Saskatchewan seniors have a reasonable expectation that their parents or grandparents will receive proper care when they move into a long-term care home, but the findings of the Ombudsman report indicate this might not be the case.


Ombudsman Mary McFadyen’s report into the care provided to a resident of the Santa Maria Senior Citizens home in Regina was released on May 13.
The report does not only raise concerns over shortcomings in the treatment of Margaret Warholm. The Ombudsman’s office received 89 complaints about the quality of long-term care in the province since the start of this investigation in November 2014, and McFadyen described long-term care in Saskatchewan as “a system under strain.”
The Minister of Health requested the Ombudsman to investigate the care provided to Warholm after her children questioned the adequacy of her care. Her weight dropped from 144 pounds when she was admitted to the care home in September 2011 to just over 90 pounds in 2013.
She was 74 when she died three days after being admitted to hospital on Oct. 6, 2013. Her hospital chart described Warholm as “emaciated” and “malnourished.”
It also referred to a recent compression fracture in her spine. She had a large bed sore on her back and the rest of the skin on her back was “extremely red” as well as “fragile” and “thin.”
According to the Ombudsman report, the care provided to Warholm did not comply with the Ministry of Health’s policy guidelines for special-care homes or with Santa Maria’s own policies and procedures.
The report highlights many issues that indicate a systemic problem with long-term care in Saskatchewan. This is not even the first time these kinds of concerns have been raised in the province.
After previous complaints by family members at the provincial legislature the Minister of Health instructed the CEOs of health regions in May 2013 to visit all long-term care facilities to listen to concerns.
The resulting 311-page review of long-term care facilities in the province presented a glimpse into standards of care that are simply not what could be considered acceptable, for example residents might only receive a bath once a week, assistance will come too late to make it to a toilet in time or medication is not provided on time.
The government’s immediate response was to establish a $10-million urgent issues action fund to address priority issues in health regions such as the purchase of equipment and training.
Despite these efforts the underlying problems still need to be addressed. Concerned family members of care home residents from across the province have continued to make appearances at the provincial legislature during the spring session, which concluded May 14.
In addition to raising the concerns of these families during question period, the NDP opposition members have been calling for measures to address inadequate staffing levels in long-term care facilities and minimum quality-of-care standards.
The issues highlighted in the Ombudsman report were probably not a real surprise to the Ministry of Health because it echoes what have been said before by families, written in CEO reports from health regions, and mentioned over and over by health care provider unions and opposition politicians.
There are references to inadequate staffing levels, too broad and non-specific standards of care, insufficient monitoring to ensure minimum standards are met, ineffective concern handling procedures and a disconnect between management decisions and staff needs.
The Ombudsman report indicates that the needs of residents in long-term care have changed. Twenty years ago most residents were assessed to only require Level 1 and 2 care, but now the residents of these facilities typically require more intensive Level 3 or 4 care.
This increase in Level 3 and 4 residents have resulted in a decision by the Ministry to remove previous minimum hours of care requirements and to develop the current guidelines that provide health regions with more flexibility to determine the care needs of individual residents.
The Ministry of Health’s program guidelines for long-term care homes include more than 100 individual standards. In response to the Ombudsman report, Minister of Health Dustin Duncan committed the government to properly operationalize these standards and to publicly report on care standards and inspection results in long-term care homes.
Seniors and their families have the right to expect proper care in these facilities, and to know when standards are not met in a specific institution. It is time for the government to meet their expectations.
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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Matthew Liebenberg

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