(The Canadian Press)

(The Canadian Press)

Canada’s long-term care system failed elders, before and during COVID-19: report

The authors are calling on Ottawa to develop federal national standards for staffing and training

Canada has failed in its duty to protect vulnerable elders in long-term care, according to a highly critical report that examines the issue in light of the COVID-19 crisis.

The report released Friday by the Royal Society of Canada found the pandemic was a “shock wave” that exposed many long-standing deficiencies in the system and caused high levels of “physical, mental and emotional suffering” for seniors.

“Those lives lost unnecessarily had value,” reads the report by a working group that was chaired by Dr. Carole Estabrooks at the University of Alberta.

“Those older adults deserved a good closing phase of their lives and a good death. We failed them.”

The working group, which was created by the Royal Society’s COVID-19 task force of scientists and researchers, said the causes of the failure are complex but are rooted in what they called “systemic and deeply institutionalized implicit attitudes about age and gender.”

It found that 81 per cent of Canada’s COVID-19 deaths have come in long-term care homes, far higher than what is reported in comparable countries, including a 31 per cent figure in the United States, 28 per cent in Australia and 66 per cent in Spain.

The authors say Canadian homes have allowed staff-to-patient ratios to drop and have increasingly shifted to an unregulated workforce in recent years, even as patients are living longer with diseases that require increasingly complex care, such as dementia.

“(Those unregulated workers) receive the lowest wages in the health-care sector, are given variable and minimal formal training in (long-term care), and are rarely part of decision-making about care for residents,” reads the report, which notes that many of these workers report being overworked and suffering from high rates of burnout.

In contrast, the proportion of registered nurses has fallen, and many residents lack access to comprehensive care including medical, health and social services and therapies, even though the needs are greater than before.

The report notes that authorities have failed to listen to the voices of long-term care residents and those who care for them — both groups overwhelmingly composed of women. Women are also more likely to be the unpaid caregivers who are increasingly called upon to fill the gaps in the system, the authors said.

Long-term care homes were uniquely vulnerable to COVID-19, combining an already-sick patient base with a novel disease to which nobody has immunity, the report says. Homes in Canada are often older and feature shared bedrooms and bathrooms, which made containing COVID-19 a challenge.

However, the report also notes that basic infection controls and personal protective equipment were often lacking and that many employees worked in multiple facilities, increasing the chances of spreading the virus.

“We have a duty to care and to fix this — not just to fix the current communicable disease crisis, but to fix the sector that enabled that crisis to wreak such avoidable and tragic havoc,” the authors wrote.

The report makes nine recommendations, which it says are geared towards addressing a workforce crisis that leaves homes understaffed and employees underpaid and overwhelmed.

The authors called on Ottawa to develop federal national standards for staffing and training, and to make provincial funding contingent upon meeting them.

The federal government should also ensure data is collected on resident quality of life, care standards and worker satisfaction and ensure it is analyzed by a third-party body, the report says. That data should also take into account disparities caused by race, ethnicity, gender identity, poverty and other vulnerabilities.

Provinces must “immediately implement appropriate pay and benefits, including sick leave, for the large and critical unregulated workforce of direct care aides and personal support workers” and offer them ongoing training and mental health support, the report’s authors said.

Unregulated staff should be offered full-time work, and provinces should evaluate “one workplace” policies that prevent employees from moving from site to site, the report concludes.

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

(NEWS FILE PHOTO)
City of Port Alberni, ACRD prepare for compost collection in 2021

Roadside pickup is expected to begin in the City of Port Alberni in June 2021

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the legislature, Jan. 11, 2021. (B.C. government)
Vancouver Island smashes COVID-19 high: 47 new cases in a day

Blowing past previous records, Vancouver Island is not matching B.C.s downward trend

Black bear cubs Athena and Jordan look on from their enclosure at the North Island Wildlife Recovery Association in Errington, B.C., on July 8, 2015. Conservation Officer Bryce Casavant won the hearts of animal lovers when he opted not to shoot the baby bears in July after their mother was destroyed for repeatedly raiding homes near Port Hardy, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Supreme Court quashes review of North Island conservation officer who refused to euthanize bears

Bryce Casavant was dismissed from his job for choosing not to shoot the cubs in 2015

Braden Holtby’s new mask designed in collaboration with Luke Marston and David Gunnarsson. (Mike Wavrecan photo)
QUINN’S QUIPS: Art is more than simple expression in First Nations culture

Indigenous artwork has a connection to its people, and vice versa

Toronto Public Health nurse Lalaine Agarin sets up for mass vaccination clinic in Toronto, Jan. 17, 2021. B.C. is set to to begin its large-scale immunization program for the general public starting in April. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
B.C.’s COVID-19 mass vaccinations expected to start in April

Clinics to immunize four million people by September

The Vancouver-based SAR team successfully rescued two lost snowshoers off of the west side of Tim Jones Peak in the early morning of Monday, Jan. 19. (North Shore Rescue photo)
B.C.’s busiest SAR team raises alarm after 2021 begins with fatality, multiple rescues

‘People beyond ski resort areas of Seymour, Grouse, and Cypress go without cell reception,’ SAR warns

Police are searching for an alleged sex offender, Nicole Edwards, who they say has not returned to her Vancouver halfway house. (Police handout)
Police hunt for woman charged in ‘horrific’ assault who failed to return to Surrey halfway house

Call 911 immediately if you see alleged sex offender Nicole Edwards, police say

A screenshot from a local Instagram account video. The account appeared to be frequented by Mission students, and showed violent videos of students assaulting and bullying other students.
Parents, former students describe ‘culture of bullying’ in Mission school district

Nearly two dozen voices come forward speaking of abuse haunting the hallways in Mission, B.C.

Joe Biden, then the U.S. vice-president, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau take their seats at the start of the First Ministers and National Indigenous Leaders meeting in Ottawa, Friday, Dec. 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau, Biden to talk today as death of Keystone XL reverberates in Canada

President Joe Biden opposed the Keystone XL expansion as vice-president under Barack Obama

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Prince Edward Island’s provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, Friday July 3, 2020. A lozenge plant in Prince Edward Island has laid off 30 workers, citing an “almost non-existent” cold and cough season amid COVID-19 restrictions. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
‘Almost non-existent’ cold and cough season: P.E.I. lozenge plant lays off 30 workers

The apparent drop in winter colds across the country seems to have weakened demand for medicine and natural remedies

Robert Riley Saunders. (File)
Disgraced Kelowna social worker faces another class-action lawsuit

Zackary Alphonse claims he was not informed of resources available to him upon leaving government care

A specialized RCMP team is investigating a suspicious trailer, which might have connections to the illicit drug trade, found abandoned outside a Cache Creek motel. (Photo credit: <em>Journal</em> files)
Police probe U-Haul trailer linked to illicit drugs left outside Cache Creek motel

Hazardous materials found inside believed to be consistent with the production of illicit drugs

Most Read