A report released this week paints a shocking picture of senior care in some long-term care facilities in New Brunswick.
The report, titled New Brunswick's Elders: Neglected and Forgotten, says many seniors receiving care are suffering from malnutrition, medical negligence and poor standards of care.
"I'm hungry, we don't have enough to eat and what is being served looks like dog vomit," is just one of the stories shared with the report's authors, a francophone advocacy group that has been looking into conditions in long-term care homes.
To fix some of the problems, the Action Committee for the Well-being of Seniors called for a gradual reduction in the number of private care homes and creation of a new model of non-profit organizations that would prioritize the well-being of seniors over profits.
A call for system-wide training
The report pointed to under-qualified staff and to staff performing tasks outside their training as key problems.
In creating the report, the action committee spoke to people in mostly francophone communities and to anglophones in Fredericton. The report did not specify the homes it wrote about or the geographic areas.
"The day-to-day issues that an anglophone senior may encounter are exactly the same as a francophone senior may encounter," Norma Dubé, the chair of the group, said Thursday.
"We're talking about seniors. It's not a language issue."
The report called for appropriate training for everyone in the system, including owners, operators and managers.
"Everybody needs training in the process of aging and what that means in terms of giving care and services," Dubé said at a news conference Wednesday when the report was released.
Some cooks in long-term-care homes have no previous experience in a kitchen or in meal preparation, and knowledge of nutritional needs does not seem to be a major concern, the report said.
In some places, seniors are being left hungry or served poor quality food with a heavy reliance on canned soup and Jell-O, according to their families.
The administration of medication is also a problem, the report said.
Senior care staff in some homes are not administering medication according to instructions, they're getting residents to take all their medications at once instead of spacing them out as required, and they're refilling prescriptions late and storing medications incorrectly.
Wrong resident grabs pill
"Medications that need to be taken with food are often given in the cafeteria," the report said.
"This in itself does not cause a problem. What does become a problem is when the medication is placed on the table next to one resident and the person sitting next to them takes the pill."
In general, seniors are feeling the impact of the long-term care system's persistent struggles with staff retention, particularly of home-care workers.
Salaries of staff are "low," the report said, and turnover is up to 40 per cent annually.
"Seniors who live at home must adapt to this turnover on an ongoing basis."
Call to action
The action committee has eight members, including Denis Losier, former CEO of Assumption Life and a former provincial cabinet minister, and Bernard Richard, former ombud and child and youth advocate.
The report lists more than a dozen groups that spoke with the committee, including Michael Keating, acting executive director of the New Brunswick Association of Nursing Homes, Éric Beaulieu, deputy minister of social development, and Suzanne Dupuis-Blanchard, director of the Centre for Studies in Aging at the University of Moncton.
There is also a thank you to "those who contacted us to share their experiences with a family member who resides in a nursing home or who is still living at home and receiving support services."
The report also thanks four francophone stakeholders and six anglophone stakeholders representing special-care homes or organizations advocating for seniors in nursing homes. It does not name the stakeholders.
Revising standards for all long-term and special-care homes, and home care services was the first recommendation on a list of six proposed by the committee. This recommendation included reviewing standards for drug management and distribution.
Fitch committed to enforcing standards
The committee also called for establishing a consistent communication process between care-provider services and residents' families, and for a gradual, substantial increase in spending on home care services.
Speaking to Radio-Canada, Social Development Minister Bruce Fitch reiterated his confidence in private care homes, emphasizing that they must meet the levels of care imposed by the government. He also said his government is committed to finding solutions to the problems raised.
Keating, of the nursing home association, did not respond to numerous requests for an interview.