House Call with Carol Hughes

Report on long-term care a shocking wake-up for Canadians

For decades, New Democrats have brought seniors’ issues to Parliament, explaining that too many are vulnerable or unable to live in dignity. While there was a time people were encouraged to worry more about minor tax breaks than Canada’s senior and vulnerable populations, the heavy toll that COVID-19 has extracted from long-term care (LTC) facilities has proven those priorities were off-point.

By now, this should be no surprise given the fact that these facilities were hit hardest by the pandemic. In a few instances the military was asked to step in to provide care that overwhelmed staff were unable to. That experience led to a Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) report which confirmed the worst and proves there is much work to do to achieve the dignity most of us would want for our loved ones.

The report is clear that seniors and those employed in these facilities were put in horrible situations. The infractions listed are numerous and shocking. From sitting in soiled diapers all day to not being bathed in weeks, many of the issues exposed point to a limited workforce and a reluctance to provide the basic materials one would fully expect from an LTC facility, such as linens. It was extremely disappointing to read about seniors receiving aggressive and forceful treatment for services they absolutely require such as transfers for those with mobility issues. Cleanliness, insect infestations, improper food for individuals with dietary restrictions were among the many other problems that should not have required CAF assistance. Among the biggest takeaways is that these institutions are willing to collect profits while residents suffer and employees struggle to meet basic need due to a shortage of supplies and assistance.

The pandemic has highlighted this tragic situation, but governments have known about the issues in LTC for years. One feature of these facilities is that they often hire people in such a way as to avoid the obligations of full-time employment. This job insecurity meant that LTC employees often worked at more than one facility. This helped the virus spread and also contributed to the lack of institutional memory that many facilities exhibited.

All the while the government has been hiding behind provincial jurisdiction, but it is clear that Canadians aren’t accepting that answer and are looking for federal leadership so problems can be addressed in a singular way. While the government must work with the provinces to ensure much better care, the fact is there is room for a federal investment that would lay the groundwork for strong federal regulations. This would help those receiving care and those providing it as well. That we would pinch pennies on the care of the most vulnerable says all we need to know about which priorities needs to shift in these facilities.

New Democrats believe Canadians deserve a seniors care guarantee. Our vision would ensure they have safe and dignified care whether they are receiving that at home or an LTC facility. This would help families be confident their loved ones will have the care they deserve. That means inspections, appropriate levels of care and staff ratios that are designed to prevent the spread of disease.

Seniors are not the only ones who require assistance when it comes to LTC homes, the workers who are relied on to provide care and a clean facility need a guarantee too. This means providing wages that reflect the value of their work and allow them to live in dignity as well. This would help curb the need for these employees to hold multiple jobs which has played a role in spreading COVID-19. These workers also require safe workplaces and access the necessary protective equipment.

While it’s not surprising that we have arrived at an era where LTC is provided by for-profit facilities, it is now time to ask ourselves if that is the best model to continue with. With a focus on profits, the consequences have been significant and predictable. When we emerge from the pandemic, this will be among the most pressing issues to fix so that those who have worked and contributed their whole lives are able to live in dignity.