Canadians have for years been turning a blind eye to the state of long-term care homes across the country and ignoring the growing question of how to care for the elderly, says one doctor.
In an interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson, Dr. Samir Sinha said fixing the heartbreaking condition of long-term care homes recently exposed by the devastation of the coronavirus pandemic will take more than money — it will take real thinking about what models of care the country wants.
“I think we’ve deluded ourselves over time by saying, ‘well it’s just a few bad actors,'” said Sinha, who is director of geriatrics at Mount Sinai Hospital and the University Health Network Hospitals in Toronto.
“Really, all of us have allowed this system to go underfunded, to allow lapses in care to go undetected.”
More than 1,600 people have died in long-term care homes since the coronavirus pandemic plagued residents and staff over the last three months.
The Ontario and Quebec governments called in the military, which released a searing report last week into the state of those homes.
In Ontario, the report outlined what the military called a “horrible” level of care and “blatant disregard” for infection control protocols at five long-term care homes.
The provincial government has since taken control of the five homes cited in the report but the disturbing findings have launched national soul-searching about how the conditions got so bad.
Premier Doug Ford is also pledging to organize an independent commission to examine the matter.
“This is a scandal no matter which way you cut it,” said Toronto Mayor John Tory in an interview with Stephenson. “What we have here is a failure to meet a standard of care.”
“There are a lot of questions that need to be answered, there are a lot of people we need to hear from.”
Tory said he, like many Ontarians, will be looking to that commission to provide answers about what went wrong and what needs to be the focus going forward.
Sinha noted that while lack of funding is part of the problem, it’s not the only issue.
“We need to have national standards,” he said, urging that part of the problem has been that long-term care isn’t defined as an essential service under the Canada Health Act.
He also called for a conversation about what old age care should look like in the future, and said a model focused more on home care and community-based care rather than long-term care institutions, has had success in other countries.
He says it’s a model he hears growing support for among Canadians too, and added it can often be less expensive than the long-term care home model.
“I’m hoping we invest what we need to do but first I think we need to figure out what we want to do.”