FOM joins Canada-wide call for national LTC standards amid COVID-19 deaths

April 27, 2021
EDMONTON

Friends of Medicare joins Canada-wide call for national long-term care standards amid COVID-19 deaths

Today Friends of Medicare joins provincial and territorial Health Coalitions from across the country, Canadians 4 LTC, advocates, family members, and seniors for a National Day of Action for Long-Term Care Standards. All across Canada, we will be virtually protesting the failure of our federal and provincial governments to set national standards for long-term care. The scale of suffering and preventable death in Canada’s long-term care homes throughout the pandemic has precipitated a moral obligation for meaningful change. However, our political leaders have failed to lead.

Budget 2021 confirmed that the federal government intends to pass their responsibilities for developing national standards on to the Health Standards Organization and the Canadian Standards Association, which will help to inform “ongoing discussions with provinces and territories on improving the quality of life of seniors in long-term care.” 

Further, Budget 2021 proposes to provide $3 billion over five years to Health Canada to support provinces and territories in ensuring that the national long-term care standards proposed by these groups are applied and permanent. In the name of provincial jurisdiction over health care delivery, the federal government intends to leave it up to each province and territory to determine how changes are eventually applied in their long-term care sectors, in spite of the fact that a number of provincial governments are entangled with the for-profit long-term care industry, which is notorious for prioritizing profit over providing much-needed care.

“COVID-19 has laid bare long-standing issues in continuing care that Friends of Medicare and other advocates have been sounding the alarm over for decades. Yet even after everything seniors and their families have been through during this pandemic, the best that our federal government could do was to leave the task of developing national long-term care standards to the accreditation industry,” says Sandra Azocar, Executive Director of Friends of Medicare. “It’s a far cry from our calls for real national standards, public reporting and meaningful accountability, and seniors deserve better.”

Approximately 67% of Canada’s long-term care homes are already accredited, yet this system has not provided the needed protections for residents and staff. Let us be 100% clear: accreditation is no substitute for national standards.

In Alberta’s political landscape, we have seen our government spend nearly $300 million to date, to offset continuing care operators’ loss of revenue due to COVID-19, and to provide financial support to the long-term care industry. Our premier callously stood in the Legislature to say that most people who have died of COVID-19 have already outlived Alberta’s average life expectancy: “The average age of death from COVID in Alberta is 83, and I remind the House that the average life expectancy in the province is age 82.” 

In January 2020, the Alberta Continuing Care Association which represents long-term care operators, filed to lobby the province about legislating COVID-19 legal liability protection for continuing care providers. On April 22, the government responded by introducing Bill 70: COVID-19 Related Measures Act, extending civil liability protection to care providers, including long-term care operators. 

“As of April 26, 1,327 residents of continuing care facilities in Alberta have died of COVID-19, yet our provincial government has responded by introducing legislation that primarily serves to protect private, for-profit continuing care companies,” says Azocar. “The bill doesn’t serve the public interest, and it doesn’t serve all the Albertans who have tragically died potentially preventable deaths in a system more focused on profit than on care.”

National standards do not belong in the hands of private industry. National long-term care standards should require more care, a clear staffing standard, better quality of care, meaningful accountability and must take profit out of seniors’ care. They should be publicly reported and in public legislation, or at minimum a federal-provincial/territorial funding agreement – with conditions and expectations built in – and governed with public oversight. 

Canada’s health coalitions have proposed a long-term care program that would embrace the 5 principles of the Canada Health Act under a new Long-Term Residential Care Act: Public administration; comprehensiveness; universality; accessibility; and portability, plus 3 new criteria: quality; accountability; and public/non-profit delivery. This national program would include a national LTC advisory panel and annual reports to Parliament on these criteria. 

Our governments have unequivocally failed to keep continuing care residents safe. As a country, we have a moral obligation to all those who have passed, and all those still living and working in long-term care homes across Canada to finally ensure that this tragedy is never repeated. Today, Friends of Medicare stands with allies Canada-wide to call on our governments to implement long-overdue national long-term care standards, and to finally ensure that all aging Canadians have access to the care they need and deserve.