Regina– Outbreaks of COVID-19 at privately-administered long-term care facilities has the New Democratic Party (NDP) calling for essentially nationalizing five long-term care homes within Saskatchewan.
Standing before the Extendicare Parkside facility in Regina on Feb. 2, NDP Seniors Critic Matt Love, MLA for Saskatoon Eastview, and NDP Leader Ryan Meili, MLA for Saskatoon Meewasin, detailed their plan to take over several privately owned facilities, with the intention of making them government-owned and operated.
Love said, “This facility has become a bit of a symbol in our province of the tragic consequences of COVID-19. And it was here, at this location, that I think we learned really two difficult but important lessons. And the first one is that this government failed to act when it when it comes to solving the crises in our long-term care system. And more recently, they failed to act as the second wave in our province, and this government took zero significant actions to protect seniors living in long term care.
“The result of these failures is that Saskatchewan families are being left down.
“The second thing that we learned from this location is that for-profit care for seniors, has no place in our province. It has no place in the way that we move forward to provide care for senior citizens.”
Love continued, “When we see the scale of death, both in Saskatchewan, but across Canada, in for-profit long-term care facilities, what we see is that one thing becomes abundantly clear: and that's the profit model for care is broken, and it's failing seniors. Families who have suffered and lost members are left to sit and watch as the company that that that owns and runs these facilities generates immense profit, and pays out dividends to their shareholders. And this is wrong.”
He said it betrays those who work at the facilities as well as the families of those who live there. He called the workers “heroes.”
Meili said that his mother worked at Extendicare in Moose Jaw for 25 years as a registered nurse and in management.
He said he knows that staff have “here have done everything they can to protect each other and protect the vulnerable residents they serve.”
Meili spoke of seniors who are four-to-a-room, and said there is anger with the Saskatchewan Party government, “because this government knew they knew that this was a problem. They saw what happened, in Ontario, across the country, with the first wave and they did nothing; nothing to prepare for what we knew was coming, with more cases in the fall. And that is the pattern of this government for years.”
He said the NDP have been raising concerns about Extendicare since 2013, and there’s been similar concerns about long-term care across Saskatchewan.
Meili said, “Now we have 43 people, having lost their lives here at Parkside, six more at Preston, dozens more who've been sick. All while Extendicare has been taking profits, and taking public money, as a wage supplement. It's got to stop.
“And that's why we're calling for real change today. And that change is as follows: We immediately transfer the management, permanently, of all for-profit facilities in Saskatchewan, to the SHA (Saskatchewan Health Authority).
“We know that for years, the for-profit model has been failing residents at every level across the country, but the pandemic has made that all too tragically clear in a much more serious way. So immediately transfer those facilities; that means five facilities here in Saskatchewan.”
He listed Extendicare Elmview, Parkside and Sunset in Regina, Extendicare Preston in Saskatoon, and Extendicare Moose Jaw.
“Along with transferring those facilities, we're demanding that the government be honest with us be clear and share all the information about every outbreak happening in long-term care in Saskatchewan and the outcomes; the deaths, the hospitalizations, the full story.
“We're also calling on this government to immediately hire the 300 CCAs (continuing care aides) they promised in the Throne Speech, not wait until after the spring budget; the budget that they've delayed.”
Meili said there is a need for a workforce strategy with SHA and healthcare unions to plan for adequate staffing. Meili said there should be minimum care standards in all facilities public, not-for-profit private, and the charitable sector as well, including a maximum of two residents per room.
He added, “We need to expand the temporary wage supplement, not just to a few people, leaving millions of federal dollars on the table, but applying it to all health care workers that should be eligible and should be receiving.”
Lastly, Meili also called for independent body, a seniors advocate.
He said this would involve “permanently taking over ownership of these facilities, bring them into the public system, and then buy the buildings as they are.”
Asked about this during his weekly COVID-19 briefing later on Feb. 2, Premier Scott Moe said there are standards of care within the Saskatchewan Health Authority. “With respect to this government's commitment to long-term care here in the province, I think the people of the province know very well that we have committed vast amounts of resources to ensure the long-term care in Saskatchewan is as safe as it can possibly be.”
Moe noted there have been many challenges, and recently the provincial ombudsman was asked to investigate those challenges specifically to one facility.
He said Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab spoke earlier “to the good work that our that our healthcare staff have done and keeping our long-term care infections, when they occur, confined and contained and I want to also take the opportunity to thank them.”
Moe said over the last ten years the province had invested in around 15 new long term care facilities in the province.
“We've increased our long-term care staff with similar amount of beds, by about 700, committed to another 300 that are long-term care staff that are in the process of being hired on, as we speak, to ensure that we are able to continue to provide, not only the care, but the safe care for our family members in our long term care facilities here in the province,” he said.
Moe said there is more work to do. “We'll wait with specifics on the ombudsman report, with respect to one facility. But most certainly, we're going to continue to invest in not only long-term care but, more directly into our family members that are utilizing long term care homes and ultimately the people that built our province.”
Brian Zinchuk, Local Journalism Initiative reporter, Estevan Mercury