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Nova Scotia may be subject to national minimum care standards in nursing homes

Click to play video 'Nova Scotia may soon be subject to national minimum care standards in nursing homes' Nova Scotia may soon be subject to national minimum care standards in nursing homes
WATCH: The federal government committed to creating Canada’s first national, minimum care standards for nursing homes. Those changes could impact how Nova Scotia responds to a second wave of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities. Elizabeth McSheffrey reports – Sep 25, 2020

Nova Scotia’s nursing homes may soon be subject to minimal national care standards, developed in partnership between provincial governments and Ottawa.

The commitment to create these standards — for the first time in Canada — was made in this week’s throne speech, as the long-term care sector prepares for the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It is a national shame what has happened in long-term care facilities across the country, and it has really shone a spotlight on the inadequacies that some of these facilities experienced,” federal Minister of Seniors Deb Schulte told Global News on Friday.

“We don’t want to be in a jurisdictional fight, it’s about supporting each other and working together to get the resources that are required,” Schulte said.

READ MORE: N.S. nursing homes ask province to delay withholding funds over vacant beds during pandemic

The national standards would go a step further than the interim guidelines for infection control and prevention in long-term care facilities (LTCs), issued by the Public Health Agency of Canada in April. The intention is to have them apply both during the pandemic and after, said Schulte.

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“The national standards are one more step that we need to go forward with to make sure there’s an appropriate standard of care so all seniors, no matter where they choose to live, especially in our long-term care facilities, can be safe and secure.”

According to a June report from the Royal Society of Canada, LTC residents have been hardest hit by the pandemic, representing 81 per cent of all the country’s COVID-19 deaths.

In comparison, nursing home residents in Australia represented only 28 per cent.

READ MORE: Staffing issues, shared rooms led to deadly outbreak at N.S. long-term home: review

That report recommended creating national minimum care standards — especially addressing staffing levels and training on infectious disease control — and tying federal funding dollars to the implementation of those standards.

Janice Keefe, a co-author on the report and director of the Nova Scotia Centre on Aging, said that element is essential, providing Ottawa gives provinces enough resources to implement the changes it’s requiring.

“In our case (if Ottawa does not), that means then we have to take money from somewhere else, and this shouldn’t be about robbing one person to pay another person,” Keefe explained.

“This is about having a minimum standard of care and quality of life for our most vulnerable population, residents in long-term care.”

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Keefe said she’d like to see standards for personal protective equipment, safe visitation for families during an outbreak, better working conditions for staff, and a plan for isolating sick seniors, at the top of the federal list.

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Schulte said she wouldn’t speculate on what the standards would look like, but said that work will soon be underway.

“We’ve definitely seen where the issues have been exacerbated by the pandemic,” she said, adding that it won’t be a “one-size-fits-all” approach. “There is a challenge because these facilities across the country are not all new, some go back many decades.”

Nova Scotia Health Minister Randy Delorey was unavailable to comment on this on Friday. His department was not able to confirm whether the province would welcome national standards for the LTC sector.

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“We appreciate the support for our long-term care sector from the Safe Restart Agreement with the federal government,” wrote spokesperson Marla MacInnis.

“The recommendations in both reports were made with the intent of setting the province up for an improved response to a second wave. Our priority now is to incorporate the recommendations from the two recent reports into our planning efforts,” McInnis said.