Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he will be looking at ways to better support long-term care employees taking care of seniors during the coronavirus pandemic, while announcing more money for essential workers who are making less than $2,500 per month.
He said he will be speaking with Canadian premiers on Wednesday about putting the wage boost in place as soon as possible.
“The uncomfortable and tragic truth is that the very places that care for our elderly are the most vulnerable to COVID-19,” Trudeau said.
“Right now, seniors are worried about falling ill and not being able to see their kids and grandkids again. These are the things that we need to focus on as a country.”
Trudeau added he was working with the provincial government to determine how best to send resources to long-term care facilities.
“We must all do better,” he said.
During the daily ministerial update on COVID-19, Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough echoed Trudeau’s statements, addressing frontline staff directly.
“We know the sacrifices you’re making to keep us and our loved ones safe.”
Health minister Patty Hajdu, who was also at the press conference, said she was meeting with her Quebec and Ontario counterparts to discuss topping up wages for long-term care workers to keep them from having to work in multiple residences.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland noted British Columbia has already begun banning long-term care workers from working in more than one facility to prevent the spread of the virus from home to home.
“We will be coming out with guidelines very soon,” said Freeland.
The Ontario government also unveiled the province’s “COVID-19 action plan for long-term care homes” on Wednesday.
Merrilee Fullerton, the province’s minister of long-term care said over the next 48 hours the province will be launching more “aggressive testing, screening and surveillance” that includes screening all symptomatic staff and residents of long-term care homes, as well as asymptomatic contacts of confirmed COVID-19 cases.
“We will be enhancing testing in all homes with a targeted plan for homes in outbreak and testing of asymptomatic residents and staff in select homes across the province,” Fullerton said.
On Monday, chief public health officer Theresa Tam said nearly half of all novel coronavirus-related deaths were linked to long-term care homes, with the ratios fluctuating between provinces.
In a study published by Ottawa-based Bruyère Research Institute, they estimated that although less than 2 per cent of long-term care home residents in Canada were diagnosed with COVID-19, they represented around 43 per cent of all novel coronavirus deaths.
The total did not include numbers from Quebec, where the total number of care home deaths has yet to be reported.
The fatality rate among residents in Canadian long-term care homes was 17 per cent, ranging from between 15 per cent to 19 per cent in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta.
Amy Hsu, who co-authored the report, said in a previous statement to Global News that seniors are generally more susceptible to severe outcomes from respiratory failure.
“Because they already have high rates of diabetes, heart and lung disease — particularly those in long-term care — they’re not able to withstand COVID-19 infection as well as healthier counterparts who live in the community,” she said.
Physical distancing is also harder to implement in long-term care homes, as most senior citizens are dependent on others for daily activities, such as “meals, toileting and bathing,” she said.
According to the study, policy measures that can ensure adequate staffing and limit healthcare workers from moving between multiple sites will be key in preventing COVID-19 from continuing to spread in long-term care homes.
In order to compensate long-term care workers who may incur a loss of income as a result, the study estimated it will cost $10 million per month.