National standards critical to saving lives in long-term care, report says

In the September throne speech, the federal government promised to set new national standards for long-term care so that Canadian seniors could get the best support possible — and a new paper from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) is recommending how that can be achieved.

In a report released this week titled A Higher Standard: Setting national standards for long-term and continuing care, co-authors Pat Armstrong and Marcy Cohen outline how Ottawa can reform long-term care amid a second wave of COVID-19, something the paper indicates should have been done during the first wave.

"In Canada, we have had the worst infection rates and deaths in long-term care of any western country," said Cohen, speaking Monday on CBC's The Early Edition.

The recommendations

The paper recommends the federal government take the following action as soon as possible:

  • Ensure everyone has access to care based on need, without financial barriers, and with minimum wait times for admission to a long-term care home.

  • Establish and enforce minimum staffing levels in long-term care facilities, accompanied by decent working conditions and recruitment strategies to attract and retain staff;

  • Ensure a minimum of 70 per cent of staff work full-time in a single site and that all staff (including part-time workers) have benefits and pay based on equity principles;

  • Set in place plans to address infections, ranging from adequate stock of personal protective equipment, to methods for effective laundry treatment, to adequate room size and ventilation;

  • Require public accountability through public reporting of consistent, verified data and enforcement of penalties for failure to comply with standards;

  • Invest significant federal funds into developing a universal seniors care system, with stringent means of accountability attached.

Cohen said B.C. is already leading the country by putting an order in place in March that limited long-term care workers employment to a single facility.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

For Cath-Anne Ambrose, a Vancouver resident with a mother currently in a long-term care facility, the situation in B.C. is far from perfect.

"When she went into the care home, there was probably a few months where I did not see her. She literally went in with the clothes on her back," Ambrose told CBC.

She said it was a couple of months before she could take her mother some essentials, like her glasses, and because of the pandemic, visits have been limited to through a window, in a courtyard, or in the facility lobby spaced out without touching one another.

"I miss being able to hug her," said Ambrose.

Cohen says if the federal government is putting money on the table for the provinces, then it has the right to set conditions and standards, and should do so as soon as possible.

"If you acted earlier it would have made a difference, and if you act now it will make a difference in the future," she said.

In a statement, Health Canada said it has provided guidance on the care of residents in long-term care, as well as infection prevention and control guidance developed with the National Advisory Committee on Infection Prevention and Control.

The government also stated it is providing up to $3 billion to provinces and territories to increase the wages of low-income essential workers, including front-line workers in long-term care facilities.

To hear the complete interview with Marcy Cohen on CBC's The Early Edition, tap the audio link below: