Canada’s Long-Term Care System Failed During COVID. Can it Do Better Next Time?

Canada’s long-term care systems buckled during the COVID-19 pandemic. Thousands of residents died, hundreds of workers became infected, and tens of thousands of family members were left to pick up the pieces. According to Statistics Canada, residents of nursing and seniors’ homes accounted for more than 80 per cent of all reported COVID-19 deaths during the first wave of the pandemic. By midway through the second wave, about 9,200 residents had lost their lives. And by March 2021, long-term care residents continued to represent about 50 per cent of all COVID deaths in the country.

If you or your family has been affected by a COVID-19 outbreak at a long-term care facility in Ontario, contact Will Davidson LLP today to speak with a COVID-19 class action lawyer. Our team has been fighting for victims of COVID in long-term care since the beginning of the pandemic and may be able to help you determine your next steps.

Why Did Canada’s Long-Term Care Systems Fail?

Each COVID-19 outbreak in a long-term care facility was a perfect storm. From the first days of the pandemic, it was clear that older people were at greatest risk from the virus, meaning each crowded facility was a disaster waiting to happen.

Canada’s long-term care residents fared worse than those in other wealthy nations for a variety of reasons, most notably the chronic underfunding and neglect that has plagued our long-term care systems for decades. Many of our facilities are overcrowded. Many are outdated and in states of advanced disrepair. Many are understaffed, and the staff that do exist are sometimes undertrained and underpaid. Many operators failed to implement antivirus plans to limit the spread. Some even failed to accrue sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE).

During both the first and second waves of infections, long-term care operators repeatedly mismanaged their facilities and failed to take reasonable and necessary precautions to protect their residents.

Can We do Better Next Time?

Deaths and infections in Canada’s nursing homes began to decline almost as soon as the COVID-19 vaccines arrived. Now, long-term care stakeholders, governments, and family members are left to pick up the pieces. In advance of the federal election, some of these groups hoped long-term care would be a central theme of the campaigns. On September 9, Global News published parts of discussions with numerous stakeholders about what ‘overhauling’ long-term care would look like.

Some, like Dr. Samir Sinha, director of geriatric at Sinai Health and the University Health Network in Toronto, believe better funding is essential to improved long-term care in Canada.

“I think the biggest challenge with the provision of long-term care in Canada is that compared to other countries from around the world, we grossly underfund the system that we actually have,” he told Global.

For Dr. Sinha, better funding means spending more and spending more intelligently. He believes home care, for example, is a more cost-effective and sustainable long-term solution than traditional seniors’ facilities and nursing homes.

“Right now, when we spend only 13 cents on every long-term care dollar on providing support into people’s homes, I think we need to move towards the Denmark approach where two-thirds of our long-term care funding is actually spent on supporting people in their own homes,” Dr. Sinha said.

Enhanced funding has been central to both the Liberal and Conservative parties’ long-term care platforms. The Liberals are promising more money to the provinces to hire personal support workers and improve working conditions, while the Conservatives are dangling money to the provinces alongside tax benefits for seniors and their caregivers.

Global News also spoke to Sandra Azocar, executive director of the advocacy group Friends of Medicare. She wants to see federal care standards applied to long-term care facilities across the country, and is also in favour of phasing out for-profit long-term care.

“What we want to see is legislation coming from the federal government that will oversee how long-term care is delivered across the country,” she said. That means implementing standards governing hours of care provided, staffing levels, staff training and more.

Regarding the end of for-profit care, she said: “We have actually turned seniors into a commodity and we sell them off and they’ve become ATM machines for these corporations. And that’s not right.”

Calls to eliminate for-profit care reached a crescendo during the pandemic, as private facilities consistently fared worse than public ones. Ending for-profit care is part of the New Democratic and Green parties’ federal election platforms, along with the sort of national standards favoured by Friends of Medicare.

For Pat Armstrong, professor emeritus of sociology at York University, who also spoke with Global, staffing shortages are perhaps the biggest challenge facing Canada’s long-term care systems. He believes both private and public operators must improve working conditions to ensure their facilities are staffed with competent and capable care providers.

“There are a host of issues to those working conditions,” he explained. “We need to do something about the health and safety of those workers. We have higher turnover rates in long-term care than anywhere else.”

Contact a COVID-19 Class Action Lawyer

If you or someone in your family has been affected by a COVID-19 outbreak at a long-term care facility in Ontario, contact us today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with an experienced COVID-19 class action lawyer. Our team will review your case and explain your legal options.

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