Liberals mum on bill to codify standards in long-term care, despite new guidelines

OTTAWA — A team of experts released a highly anticipated, detailed handbook on how to boost quality of life and prevent the spread of infection in long-term care homes last month that could inform anticipated federal legislation.

But the government has yet to release any details about a promised new law.

The 137-page document released by CSA Group — formerly known as the Canadian Standards Association — outlines standards on how to best design and run homes, all the way down to their ventilation and plumbing systems.

They were developed over the course of the last year, after the Liberal government pledged to set new national standards in their 2020 throne speech as Canadians witnessed the swift and deadly spread of COVID-19 in long-term care homes across the country.

As of last July, the pandemic had claimed the lives of 39,725 seniors in long-term care settings in Canada, data gathered by the National Institute on Aging show.

The crisis in long-term care prompted a federal government promise to legislate safety in such settings, but Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos has so far been silent on what a proposed law would look like and whether it would incorporate the new standards.

The NDP included a demand for such legislation in a supply-and-confidence agreement with the minority Liberals last year, but did not stipulate when a bill should be tabled or what it should include.

The minister's office and Health Canada did not respond to questions about how the federal government plans to use the standards now that they've been released. Another set of long-term care standards authored by the non-profit Health Standards Organization is expected to be released later this month.

Residents in long-term care are more vulnerable to infections, the authors of the CSA Group standards wrote.

Shared living spaces, including bedrooms, visitation policies and the people travelling between different facilities can all contribute to higher risks of infection and death.

"The objective is to balance safety and the residents' right to live with dignity and risk," the authors wrote.

The standards were developed by a committee of experts on long-term care, representatives from provincial health authorities, researchers, engineers and seniors' advocates. The standards also incorporate feedback from hundreds of residents and their families, as well as long-term care workers and managers.

Design guidelines cover everything from the colour of the floor tiles — simple, to avoid visual clutter for residents with cognitive impairments — to the acoustics of the rooms.

They include recommendations for visitors' policies that grant residents safe access to guests without a risk of exposing other residents to potential infections, particularly during outbreaks.

They also set out that new or renovated homes should include private bedrooms, access to gardens and windows with views of the outdoors in bedrooms and gathering spaces.

Existing homes should have no more than two people to a room, the standards stipulate.

CSA Group says it hopes to raise awareness about the new standards with front-line workers and with residents and their families next month.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 16, 2023.

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press