Thursday Oct 01

Northern Light: Crisis in Long-Term Care Homes

Covid-19 has hit Ontario’s long-term care home with devastating force, bringing long overdue attention to the fatal privatization and deregulation schemes that have left senior care in the province woefully inadequate.

In total 1400 are dead in the homes, totaling 60% of the mortalities in the province. It is largely senseless death.

The devastation has put the public eye onto the fatal issues that exist inside the homes.

Health care advocates and labor unions representing health care workers have been calling for public control, living wages, and tighter regulations for a long time, all so that lives would be saved and the overall care improved. Covid has brought their demands to the forefront as our family members pass away in alarming high numbers.

The central issue leading to the deprivation in the homes is the low level of pay for the workers. Low pay for the workers forces workers to take shifts in multiple homes in order to survive. This is not a good thing in the best of times, but during the pandemic has proven to be catastrophic.

One of the other major contributing factors is under-staffing, with for-profit nursing homes skimping on patient care to make a buck. There are no minimum staffing or care levels in Ontario’s homes.

Another issue is for profit homes to contract out cleaning services resulting in substandard cleaning. Again, this is tragic without Covid-19, but with it and it has become calamitous.

Yet another factor is that many homes have shared rooms, with up to four residents sharing a single room. Living out your golden years sharing a room with three others is one thing, doing it in 2020 is a death sentence.

The BC NDP government has upped the wages of private long-term care workers to $24.83, which is what the unionized workers at BC’s public long-term facilities earn. The government then mandated that workers stop working in multiple homes. The deaths are very low in comparison to Ontario despite having the first large Covid outbreak in Canada. Overall there have been 111 deaths in long-term care in BC totaling 67% of the deaths in the province.

As the long-term care homes were hit with Covid, so were the staff. And when staff were infected, they couldn’t work, turning the already bad conditions inside the homes to disastrous.

Even after the pandemic hit, staff were not given proper protective equipment. Workers have had to continue to fight for PPE and even to solicit for donations of personal protective equipment to keep them safer during the pandemic.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford called in the military to help out in the hardest hit long-term care homes. The help should’ve been the sustained solution of workers paid living wages with enough resources to handle the pandemic, but unclear whether Ford can wrap his head around the military not being the best solution to everything.

After two weeks in the homes, the military released a report that details the levels of deprivation that exists in private long-term care homes. Cockroach infested kitchens, residents with soiled diapers left for hours, residents with Covid-19 not separated from still healthy residents.

Bleak stuff, but in these times not all that surprising.

It’s gotten so bad that Doug Ford has said the solution, albeit a temporary one, is that the provincial government take over control of private care homes. Finally, Doug agrees that public services are better that private ones!

The pandemic has exposed flaws in the system so broadly that they are impossible to ignore. What Canadian health coalitions and health care worker unions have been demanding for decades is now being shown as the necessities that they are.

This mess has opened the debate into why long-term care is not considered health care in Canada, and not covered by our free national health care system and nationalized. It clearly is health care being provided inside the homes.

Prime Minister Trudeau, true to form, is calling for fundamental change to the system while not proposing anything close to it. He sheds a tear (literally) for the dead in the homes but offers no path forward to get us out of this deplorable decrepit mess. Does he expect Rob Ford’s brother and the military to save the day?

The only good that can come out of this pandemic is overhaul of broken systems. Nationalizing long-term care in Canada and bringing it into the healthcare system would be a fitting memorial for the many that have died.

JOHN ANDERSON is the Field Director for ACORN Canada. Since 2004 John has helped to develop the ACORN Canada operations in Toronto, Ontario, and British Columbia. He is a graduate of the University of Winnipeg.

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