House Call with Carol Hughes

Changes to long-term care are overdue

People in congregate living settings, such as those in long-term residences, have every right to wonder why more wasn’t done to ensure their safety in the aftermath of the first wave of COVID-19. While governments may have lurched from event to event in the pandemic’s early days, the fact that so little was done to shore up the ability of homes to keep their residents safe may show that the government isn’t interested in the best answer to the problem, privatization.

The whole notion likely runs counter to the sensibilities of those who believe in the omnipotence of the market and its ability to efficiently address need, which the government has its fair share of. However, beliefs won’t change the fact that for-profit, long-term care residents were ground zero during the first wave of the pandemic. Now they are being ravaged again, with little learned from the first go-around and less done to ensure the safety of residents, leaving observers to question whether profits and dividends are more valued than individuals.

While it’s true there are ways that provinces can improve how residences operate, the profit model could be the biggest reason most changes would need to be made. No clearer example of that is available than the reliance on part-time employees that helped carry COVID from one long-term residence to the next. That was needed since many of these employees often worked in more than one home to make ends meet. Some jurisdictions have tried to end the practice, forcing part-timers to choose one employer. In the end this punishes the employee showing that the well-being of residents and employees are secondary considerations.

Making money should never be more important than the lives and dignity of our loved ones. During the first wave of the pandemic, over 80 percent of COVID-19 deaths in Canada happened in long-term care settings and it’s only getting worse in the second wave. New Democrats are demanding better for our loved ones by calling for an immediate end to profit-driven long-term care homes and bringing Revera, a private, for-profit centre owned by the federal government, into public ownership.

Revera is clearly the place to begin. Even before the pandemic, the company was facing dozens of lawsuits related to neglect contributing to death. In the last year, the problems have only mounted along with the lawsuits. Any settlements from the courts would undoubtedly send the company to look for ways to recoup losses and increase profit which will likely cut further into operating costs that ensure the safety of residents and employees.

As recently as May, the federal minister responsible for Revera said the government would be doing more to help seniors living in their homes. Over half a year later, it remains to be seen what was meant by that. The shame is that by refusing to make changes to protect residents in homes the government controls, it creates permission for other providers in Canada to follow that example and do the same. 

Seniors in this country deserve much better treatment than what they have received in many long-term care homes. It’s crucial that the federal government take immediate action to ensure our loved ones are safe and that private, for-profit homes are never again allowed to prioritize their profits over the dignity and well-being of Canadians. We have placed too much faith in market forces and must dial that back under the realization that we can ensure needs are met, rather than hope they are. There are many ways to make money without compromising the safety of vulnerable people living in long-term care facilities.