The Canadian Medical Association says the federal government needs to address “appalling conditions” in a number of long-term care homes across the country.
The association issued a call on Thursday for immediate action by the federal government in coordination with provinces, who have jurisdiction over long-term care.
“I think it’s really important to understand … the standards of care should be uniform across the country,” said CMA president, Dr. Sandy Buchman.
Long-term care has been underlooked for too long in health care, he said.
“It’s been clearly chronically underfunded compared to the acute care system, and even that’s been underfunded,” he said.
Earlier this week, scathing documents by the Canadian military cited examples of alleged neglect, abuse and unsanitary conditions in five Ontario homes.
After Global News first reported on the concerns Tuesday, the Ontario government released a report summarizing the military’s findings, which the province said it had received from the federal government over the weekend.
The report came after the Canadian Armed Forces had been deployed to several care homes to help combat COVID-19.
Similar problems had been reported in some Quebec homes in April, although a military report this week on that province said conditions have now improved somewhat.
Dr. Buchman said he has worked in many long-term care facilities in his decades-long career, and the recent reports did not surprise him.
“I’ve seen the whole spectrum,” he said. “I’ve seen incredible care. And I’ve also seen the poor quality care. And so it’s sadly not surprising.”
Other CMA recommendations include steps such as making sure there are enough employees working safely in long-term care and home care; and ensuring they all have enough personal protective equipment.
The association said that while some steps have been taken, “more needs to be done.”
“Recent reports on the deplorable living conditions of seniors in some LTC homes are unacceptable,” the CMA said in a statement.
“Quality living and care for seniors shouldn’t be defined by geographical borders, but rather by national standards.”
The CMA also wants to see reports issued on long-term care home conditions across the country in a “transparent, publicly available” manner; more funding and a national plan for seniors care; and formal support for the call for a United Nations Convention on the Rights of all Older Persons.
Five Toronto-area Liberal MPs, whose ridings are home to some of the elder-care facilities that have been devastated by COVID-19, are also calling for enforceable federal long-term care standards.
“The significant number of deaths in long-term care homes related to COVID-19 is not unique to our constituencies,” the MPs wrote.
“It is a tragedy taking place across Canada as approximately 80 per cent of all COVID-19-related deaths across our country have occurred in long-term care homes.”
As Quebec Premier Francois Legault pointed out Thursday, if the federal government wants to help provinces, they can do so by increasing their health care funding.
“We want to change the system, a broken system that’s been around for decades,” said Ontario Premier Doug Ford. “We need money.”
As one expert tells Global News, money alone can’t fix the problem. National guidelines for senior care are necessary too.
“I think that we actually have to start with something that looks holistically at seniors care,” said Tamara Daly from the York University Centre for Aging Research and Education.
“Because home care, like long-term care and retirement homes and assisted living, they are all part of the provision of seniors care,” she said.
“We really have a patchwork of approaches that depend on the jurisdiction, the province, the territory.”
“This is our time of reckoning. This is actually the moment where we have to focus on making sure that it gets better. Enough is enough, really.”
— With files by Global News reporter David Akin, The Canadian Press