OTTAWA – A spate of tragedies at seniors’ homes and long-term care facilities across Canada highlight the need for the federal government to create and enforce a national standard for both public and private institutions caring for the elderly. Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam has revealed that about half the COVID-19 related deaths in Canada are linked to outbreaks at such facilities.
“Regulations covering senior homes and long-term care facilities fall under provincial jurisdiction but it is becoming obvious there is a leadership role in this for the federal government.” said Green Party Interim Leader Jo-Ann Roberts. “This pandemic has revealed issues of gross negligence and inequality when it comes to the management and hiring practices in these residences. Ownership changes of privatized facilities led to contract flipping and union decertification. Workers were laid off and then re-hired part-time for lower wages and no benefits. These health care workers then had to work at multiple homes to make ends meet and this has led to the spread of COVID-19 from one long-term care facility to another.”
Green MP Paul Manly (Nanaimo-Ladysmith) was alerted about a seniors home in his riding that was understaffed and providing substandard care. Nanaimo Seniors Village was one of 23 facilities owned by Retirement Concepts which was purchased by the Chinese corporation Anbang Insurance with federal approval. Anbang was taken over by the Chinese state after the CEO was convicted of corruption. The Vancouver Island Health Authority took control of three Retirement Concepts facilities after conditions deteriorated for the seniors living there.
Last month, Mr. Manly spoke on the issue in parliament. “Seniors went for weeks without receiving a bath,” said Mr. Manly. “They were left in soiled clothes and soiled beds. Bedsores and other related health consequences of neglect were common.
“We have failed to protect seniors,” he added. “We must remove the financial incentive to provide substandard care. Corporations cannot be permitted to squeeze profit out of the healthcare system through vague accounting, paying below-average wages and neglecting vulnerable seniors. The abuses that have resulted from this are horrifying."
Green parliamentary leader Elizabeth May (MP, Saanich-Gulf Islands) noted that the Government has a duty to ensure that citizens can live fulfilling and dignified lives in their senior years. She said: “The federal issue now in this pandemic is to review wage subsidy and other rules to recognize that not-for-profit homes for seniors, including those for independent living, urgently need financial support and help getting PPEs. These are the homes most likely to be well-run, but lacking deep pockets to take on additional costs created by COVID-19. We need to address their needs."
The Green Party advocates for the development of a National Seniors Strategy which would support innovative home-sharing plans and other measures to allow people to stay in their own homes as long as possible.
“This is a human rights issue,” said Ms. Roberts. “No one, let alone elders, who’ve built the society we now enjoy, should find themselves trapped in such inhumane conditions. We applaud new measures in B.C. where they are raising wages, and both B.C. and Ontario are mandating that long-term care workers can work at only one home at a time. We hope that similar measures will be introduced across the country and will endure once this pandemic is over. We welcome today’s announcement by the federal government that the salaries of caregivers will be increased, and hope this will become permanent. Eventually, Greens will call for a national inquiry into what has happened here, and for enhanced federal oversight to ensure that it never happens again.”
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