Federal government to look at long-term care reforms

OTTAWA (NEWS 1130) — The federal government is discussing with provinces and territories potential reforms to long-term care in Canada, but is more focused at the moment on saving the lives of seniors.

Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu said Monday the pandemic has exposed vulnerabilities in long-term-care.

“This COVID crisis has shined a light in an area that needs dramatic reform,” she said.

“I think our government is very open to reviewing how long-term care is delivered in this country and working with provinces and territories to strengthen quality of life and safety for seniors who live in congregate living settings.”

Federal Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said the day before that residents of long-term-care facilities account for 80 per cent of the country’s COVID-19 deaths, which total more than 5,000.

She called the situation in care homes a “national crisis,” and agreed more needs to be done to protect the older population.

“If we are willing to give what it takes to address these weaknesses, and to provide better support to poorly compensated workers, we stand a better chance of maintaining control of the virus,” Tam said.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, according to reports, is calling for an end to privatized long-term-care facilities in Canada.

Hajdu said the federal government is looking at how to provide better support for all in congregate living, including people with disabilities and special needs.

“But, in particular, in terms of long-term care, I don’t think there is a minister among us that would disagree that we need to do a better job, and that the federal government can play some leadership role in this and we are having those conversations as we speak.”

She said those discussions are focused on not just how to fix the system long-term, but also to deliver better care now, no matter the model, to ensure seniors are safer in their homes.

Hajdu was asked whether the federal government look at bringing such facilities them into public health care.

“I think right now, the first focus is to get through the crisis and protect seniors who are in these homes, regardless of the model, in a much more robust way, working in partnership with provinces and territories and that’s exactly what we’ve been doing.”

Medical military support has been requested to help at care homes in Quebec and Ontario.

Hajdu said the federal government is also working with the Red Cross to deliver services and more personal protective equipment to care homes.

“I think the longer conversation is, what do we need to do collaboratively with provinces and territories to move from a place of guidelines to places standards, and I think that’s the important conversation that needs to happen,” she added.

“We are so focused on the urgent immediate need to save lives in these places that we are not having the fulsome conversations about how to reform the system, but it’s certainly on our mind,” Hadju said.

B.C. Heath Minister Adrian Dix pointed out Monday that 82 of 130 total deaths in the province from COVID-19 have been people in long-term care.

“We know how vulnerable people in long-term care are from COVID-19,” he said.

The number of people who’ve passed in long-term care elsewhere in Canada is in the thousands, he added.

“That tells us how significant the situation is, how much, I think, it challenges those working in long-term care to maintain a sense of,” Dix said, “patience and calm and serenity and support under these very difficult circumstances.”

On Tuesday, the federal government announced financial assistance through a one-time, tax-free top-up for seniors who are struggling amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The government is making a one-time payment of $300 available to those who already receive the Old Age Supplement, and another $200 for those on the Guaranteed Income Supplement.

Ottawa says more than 6.5 million seniors will benefit from the $2.5 billion initiative.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau added the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed serious flaws in how Canada cares for seniors that governments will need to fix.

Long-term care homes have seen devastating outbreaks of the respiratory illness, including hundreds of deaths across the country.

Trudeau said the federal government will help provinces improve nursing-home care in a lasting way, once the immediate COVID-19 emergency is over.

Long-term care is a provincial responsibility.

Some advocates have called for including it in the Canada Health Act, which would likely mean big infusions of federal money in exchange for provinces’ meeting federal standards.

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