The recent announcement of $32 million in extra funding the federal government is giving the province to improve care for seniors in long-tern care facilities should not be used to "backfill" previous pandemic spending, says Opposition NDP seniors critic Matt Love.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the announcement last week in Saskatoon along with Everett Hindley, Saskatchewan's minister of mental health and addictions, seniors and rural and remote health.
Trudeau said the money, taken from the federal Safe Long-Term Care Fund, was earmarked for improving care, safer dining practices, increased site cleaning and staff safety protocols.
But Hindley said the extra federal funds will be used to offset provincial costs already incurred throughout the pandemic.
"The minister told the media that this funding would not be going toward any new projects, will not be going toward any of those desperately needed changes for improvements, and that his government instead planned to use that money to backfill from previous costs associated with the pandemic," Love said at a Monday news conference.
"We have in Saskatchewan at least 223 seniors who are in the care of this government in long term care who were lost to COVID 19," Love said. "We have to learn from this pandemic and we have to make a commitment to do better in the future."
Love said the money should go toward improving conditions in long-term care facilities for residents and staff.
"I believe that the first area that we should be spending this money on is to improve staffing levels," said Love, adding provinces like Ontario and B.C. have spent money to increase staff at LTCs.
"I don't think Saskatchewan seniors deserve anything less than what seniors are getting in other provinces."
Love said family members and staff continue to say staff can't keep up with the needs of the residents in LTCs.
The provincial government said in an email to CBC that "We will not violate the terms of this funding agreement with the federal government as the NDP are calling for us to do."
The email said the province will use the one-time funding "to partially offset the more than $60 million in provincial investments into infection prevention and control measures in long-term care over the past two years."
"Some of these investments included the purchasing of infection prevention and control equipment and minor renovations to support in-room dining and isolation procedures which will continue to improve safety in long-term care homes into the future."
The email also said other investments include hiring additional staff, salary supplements and buying personal protective equipment.
"We are investing more than $750 million this year to support residents in long-term care, including fulfilling year-two of our three-year commitment to hire 300 new full-time equivalent continuing care aides in long-term care and home care and continued progress on long-term care home replacement projects in six communities across the province," the email said.
Opposition Leader Ryan Meili said he agrees with Premier Scott Moe that the province needs more health dollars from the federal government.
But he said Moe's absence from the federal announcement was telling.
"I think it would have said something if the premier had been there that they were serious about making change," Meili said.
"The fact that they sent a junior minister and that the message he was sent with was, 'We're going to do basically nothing new with these funds,' says that this is a government that doesn't care about seniors anywhere near how seniors deserve to be cared about."
Meili said it makes it tougher for the premier to make a case for more federal health funding when the extra money given is not used for its intended purpose.
"I do believe that we need more dollars from the federal government. They're not making a sufficient contribution to provincial health spending," Meili said.
"It makes it harder for the premier to go cap in hand and say, 'Give us more,' when he's not someone you can trust to do the right thing with those dollars."
The province said Hindley is the minister responsible for long term care which is why he represented the province at the funding announcement.