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Long-term care reform apparent amid COVID-19, but crisis needs solving first: Trudeau

Coronavirus outbreak: Nothing is off the table in solving long-term care home crisis, Trudeau says
Coronavirus outbreak: Nothing is off the table in solving long-term care home crisis, Trudeau says

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expects to have a fulsome conversation with Canada’s premiers about immediate and long-term reforms that may be needed of the country’s elder care system in light of reports of neglect and abuse of seniors in facilities in Quebec and Ontario.

And while Trudeau says everything is on the table when it comes to those discussions, he and his ministers remained firm Ottawa has no plans to barge into an area of provincial jurisdiction pushing a federal agenda where it may not be wanted.

Trudeau plans to raise the situation facing long-term care facilities with provincial and territorial premiers during their weekly COVID-19 call Thursday, he told the nation Wednesday.

 

READ MORE: Canada sees fewer than 1,000 new coronavirus cases for first time since March

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“I will once again offer our federal government’s support as they try to get the situation under control,” he said.

“We need to do a better job of caring for seniors. They raised us, they built this country, they deserve better.”

The immediate priority is ensuring residents living in long-term care centres are getting proper care as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage, which includes the ongoing support being delivered by Canadian Armed Forces members in nursing homes in Quebec and Ontario.

But while Ottawa is open to having conversations about larger, systemic changes that might be necessary to improve care for seniors across Canada, the prime minister says he respects and recognizes that provinces have jurisdiction over delivery of long-term care.

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“There will be many important discussions going forward on how we establish a better system in Canada and I’m not going to short circuit that conversation by putting forward aggressive proposals right now,” he said.

“All I will say is the federal government is there to support and to work with provinces to ensure that in areas of their jurisdiction, they are able to give Canadians the care that they and their families expect.”

Trudeau was reacting to a report from the Canadian Forces that detailed conditions they found in five long-term care homes in Ontario, as well as a similar report released Wednesday on nursing homes in Quebec.

In Ontario, the military found people left in filth for weeks, others left on the floor where they had fallen, cockroach infestations, people choking while being improperly fed, patients with brutal pressure sores, and seniors pleading for help for hours to no avail.

READ MORE: Archived: Live updates on coronavirus in Canada

Allegations also included failure to isolate patients who had tested positive for COVID-19 from the rest of the homes and a host of hygiene issues.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Wednesday the province would be undergoing “rigorous inspections” of long-term care centres across the province in light of the findings.

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Officials want to find out “who are good operators and who are bad actors,” Ford said, adding that the majority of nursing home operators in the province are good and he praised the work of front-line health workers.

In Quebec, the military’s findings were was less critical than those in Ontario, but they did reveal a widespread lack of personnel and high absenteeism, which the Forces said has negatively affected patient hygiene.

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Other issues they found included problems with distribution of personal protective equipment, disappearing medical supplies and residents circulating within facilities without protective equipment.

The 60-page report released Wednesday describes enormous difficulties encountered on the ground by soldiers, noting that steps will be needed to support the mental health of CAF members working in these homes in light of the stress and level of difficulty they’ve experienced.

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As of Tuesday, a total 39 of CAF members had tested positive for COVID-19 while working in nursing homes, including 15 in Ontario and 24 in Quebec.

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On Wednesday, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan promised Ottawa would provide troops working in nursing homes with hazard pay, promising further details soon.

When it comes to the safety of nursing home residents, advocates and experts in long-term care are calling on Ottawa to intervene and implement national standards immediately to address the dire living situations facing some seniors, who also face increased risks from COVID-19.

Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos said Wednesday taking such a unilateral approach without the support of the provinces and territories could backfire.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Premier Doug Ford says Ontario to take over 5 more long-term care homes in GTA

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“We know that federal support and federal guidelines … that’s good when it is developed in collaboration and in full support of the work of provinces and territories, otherwise we’ll engage in jurisdictional fights and that would be completely counterproductive,” he said.

“We want this to be done to the benefit of seniors and that’s why it must be done in a very respectful manner.”

Quebec Premier Francois Legault says the best way Ottawa can help provinces with long-term care is to heed the ongoing calls from the premiers and increase their annual health transfers.

“We’re not happy about the fact the federal government used to finance 50 per cent of the health-care expenses of the provinces. They now are (funding) between 20 and 25 per cent,” Legault said.

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Coronavirus outbreak: Singh calls on Trudeau to ‘act now’ after CAF report on Ontario’s senior homes

“We’re telling Mr. Trudeau if you really want to help us in long-term care facilities, please increase your transfers in health to all provinces. Then we’ll be able to hire, pay better and have more staff in our long-term care facilities.”

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Meanwhile, New Brunswick is reporting another new case of COVID-19 in the Campbellton, N.B., area — the third in less than a week in the north of the province, bordering Quebec.

The province’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Jennifer Russell, says one of the people involved is a health-care worker who met with patients over a two-week period, and she is concerned there will be more cases.

As a result, the Campbellton region will be returned to the “orange” level of the province’s reopening plan, restricted to two-family “bubbles” while businesses that were allowed to reopen last week will have to close.