Our Seniors Deserve Better

3 minute read
Two elderly people sitting together in a retirement home

The staggering number of COVID-19 related deaths in Canada’s long-term care (LTC) residences has shed light on the shortcomings of the current system. Issues and concerns around LTC have been understood by decision makers for some time, but those concerns were pushed to the side amidst dwindling budgets and a lack of resources. These challenges have renewed a conversation at all levels of government on critical reforms needed for the system, from better standards of care to the possibility of privatizing long term care. 

Unfortunately, it took a pandemic for politicians to wake up and realize that our long-term care system has been broken for decades. Prime Minister Trudeau said it best this week during a press conference at Rideau Hall; “COVID-19 has exposed some uncomfortable truths about our society, including how we care for seniors in Canada”. While increased funding at the federal and provincial levels is a probable outcome post-COVID, there are demands for greater reform. Jagmeet Singh, Leader of the NDP has called on the government to standardize residential care facilities under the Canada Health Act. This initiative is supported by many, including the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) and the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) who, along with many other organizations, have put forward recommendations to help overhaul Canada’s long-term care system.

The horrific stories emerging from LTC homes have sparked an ideological debate around whether or not we should continue to allow privatization of long-term care residences. Privatization is certainly a valid argument for governments looking to manage spending and the public debt on behalf of taxpayers; given Canada’s high % of seniors, the costs of de-privatizing would be significant. Those arguing for more government-funded care, on the other hand, argue that private residences may be cutting corners to help their bottom lines, rather than putting the best interests of their residents first. As well, low wages for personal support workers and poor inspection standards has resulted in calls for increased government oversight and support. And alarmingly for private care homes, new data revealed by the Toronto Star indicates that ‘for profit nursing homes have four times as many COVID-19 deaths as city-run homes in Ontario. 

Though the debate on public vs. private care is evolving, it is clear that Canadians want swift action from politicians to address long-term care challenges. Decision-makers may wish to look to BC for inspiration on how to best handle LTCs: the provincial government was quick to respond and implement much needed changes to long-term care residences, including centralizing the allocation of staff to homes and providing better employment and care conditions. While these are important short term fixes, it is incumbent on all levels of government to work together to fix the system for the long-haul to prevent another horrible tragedy like this one. 

Public inquiries into the shortfalls of our system may be the only way for Canadians to get some answers as to why the system has failed. The results may lead to better standards across the country and major reforms to our long-term care system, which ought to put the care of seniors as the top priority.

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