April 2, 2015 8:20 pm
Updated: April 3, 2015 11:55 am

Seniors care crisis? Sask. health policy analyst weighs in


REGINA – It seems on a near-daily basis over the last few months, Saskatchewan families have been coming forward with stories of problems in seniors care.

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From wounds like Margaret Warholm‘s, or falls like Jessie Sellwood had – to staff saying they’re overworked in understaffed facilities.

Lois Rein‘s family believes short staffing and lack of communication led to her death.

In the latest tragedy, a man with dementia ate laundry detergent pods and died at a Moose Jaw care home.

“If that’s not a huge wakeup call for this government, I don’t know what it’s going to take,” said Opposition NDP leader Cam Broten.

Broten has raised each of these stories in the legislature, saying there’s a crisis in long term care and that Saskatchewan seniors homes are chronically understaffed.

“The common denominator we’ve heard in these deaths is that there aren’t enough staff to provide the proper care and there aren’t the right standards there to ensure the care is being provided.”

No epidemic – yet

Despite the problems that have come to light, one Saskatoon-based health policy analyst doesn’t think the issues are widespread.

“Just from the cases themselves, six across the province, I’m not sure we can say much more than these people had unfortunate circumstances,” said Steven Lewis.

Despite the problems that have come to light, one Saskatoon-based health policy analyst doesn’t think the issues are widespread.

Brent McGillivray / Global News

Lewis said there just isn’t enough evidence to suggest more staff in care homes – or more money – would have prevented these deaths.

When asked Thursday about staffing issues, Health Minister Dustin Duncan didn’t deny these facilities need more workers.

“We’re trying as best we can to add front line staff and change our processes to reduce the harm in the system,” Duncan said. “We need to learn from these types of situations.”

“Unless an individual in this type of situation has … somebody there at their side 24 hours a day, unfortunately we have tragedies like this that do take place.”

It appears the losses come down to more than just dollars and cents; problems in care could be better solved by stronger documentation of issues, Lewis said.

He also believes bringing problems in care to the public conversation can only help improve the system.

“It’s too small a number to generalize from, but it should and it has got people thinking about whether or not there’s something deeper.”

Ombudsman probe

A report from the Saskatchewan ombudsman is expected to be released this spring, detailing results of an investigation into seniors care deaths and other complaints from families and care home workers.

Duncan said Thursday he hadn’t given much consideration to creating a ‘seniors advocate‘ position in the province, similar to British Columbia, but wouldn’t rule it out until after seeing the ombudsman report.

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