One hears of giving seniors who are living in care homes the dignity and quality care they deserve. 

It sounds nice, inspiring and dignified and in some cases it is actually true. However, Canadians have learned this is sometimes empty. 

Is it about the money? Is it just lack of competent people? Is it just a lack of frontline workers? Poor leadership?

Perhaps it is all about need for accountability.

It may come as a surprise but long-term care facilities do not fall under the federal Canada Health Act, the legislation which sets standards for publicly funded health care.

While it’s not a black and white issue with private operators of care homes being just driven by money, governments in general can shoulder some of the blame of seniors’ care issues. As citizens, we are just hoping and trusting that those who need long term care are receiving it. 

You would think they would be right?  After all, seniors deserve quality care and dignity. That’s what most of the slogans revolve around. 

Anecdotally, learning of news reports of complaints of underfunding to basic needs, structural issues which hurt in the social distancing which has resulted in the loss of life to many seniors in Canada during this pandemic. For example, 133 of Alberta 138 deaths (as of May 25) are those over the age of 60. 95 of those over the age of 80. 1,074 of the 6,879 cases are of the same 60+ demographic. 

The numbers are staggering and while this world-wide pandemic is unprecedented in this generation, it does show how some long term care centres could use some improvement. 

While everyone assumes that government is somehow monitoring these care centres. It isn’t the case and therein lies the problem. One has to trust that these care centres are adequately equipped and staffed. 

In a study done by the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association (CLHIA) in 2014, there was a warning to those thinking long term care residents were protected by some federal or provincial legislation. 

Basically, clients are at the mercy of where they live. Some are fortunate to be in communities where there is a pride amongst the workers and the care centres are well maintained. Sometimes it is a matter of getting what you pay for as well as outline by the 2014 CLHIA study.

“Long-term care is not included under the Canada Health Act and, therefore, is not available to Canadians on a universal basis. Unfortunately, many Canadians continue to have the mistaken belief that all of their long-term care needs will be met by governments,” the report reads. “While there are government programs aimed at assisting Canadians with long-term care needs, these programs vary by jurisdiction and typically are income-based. Canadians need to understand that in many cases they will be largely responsible for the cost of their long-term care needs. Policies need to be put in place now to help mitigate against the considerable stresses on our long-term care infrastructure that that the aging baby boomer generation will likely generate.”

Governments have long ignored and just assumed the private sector would look after the situation as if they were like special motels. And now comes 2020 and COVID with deaths being reported on a daily basis from the same care centres. 

It took close to 1,700 Canadian Army troops were called in to assist just five care centres in Ontario and 25 in Quebec with delivering meals and cleaning. As part of their mandate, the soldiers had to report of anything negative to their commanders. While doing the basic task they were asked to help with, they found horrific conditions, with residents receiving unclean and unsanitary care. They reported back to the premier and delivered some shocking findings.

During the news conference, Ontario Premier Doug Ford was visibly upset with what he had learned. 

“It’s shocking that this can happen here in Canada. It’s gut-wrenching and reading those reports was the hardest thing I’ve done as premier,” Ford said during the media conference. 

While critics may think Ford was diverting attention away from some of the problems in the province by being angered by the conditions - be politically cynical all you like… seniors were dying. If it took that many troops to come in and help 30 care centres what about the rest of the country. Obviously many are fine, many are not.

This care home disaster needs to be addressed across the country and now. They need to restore confidence in the care for human life and having seniors, those who built the country, looked after they way the actually deserve and not be empty words of a sales pitch.

The other issue is that it could become a legal firestorm. There are class-action lawsuits being filed in both Calgary and in Pickering Ontario, against care homes. The one in Pickering Ontario has 77 deaths and 200 COVID-19 infections. The pandemic won’t always be here but the media attention will result in closer examinations. One would think a standard must be set across the board, if not for the clients there now but for those in the future.

A Conference Board of Canada report released Nov. 27, 2017 indicated the need for more seniors’ care: “Canada could need to build 42,000 new long-term care beds in just the next five years to meet the needs of an aging population without changes to how health care for seniors is being delivered. By 2035, this number could increase to 199,000—nearly double the 255,000 beds available in 2016…. In 2016, there were approximately 721,000 Canadians aged 85 to 94 and about 16 per cent (118,000) were living in a long-term care facility or alternative level of care bed (people who require long-term care but who are living in an acute care bed in a hospital because space is not available at a long-term care facility). A little more than 15 years from now, the population in this age group will more than double to close to 1.5 million and demand for long-term care beds among this cohort could reach 239,000 without the implementation of new models of care for seniors.”

See the report here:

It is a future disaster waiting to happen… on so many levels.

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