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Improving long-term care in Canada

Canada’s performance among OECD countries concerning the deaths of older adults demonstrates how much Canada must improve its approach.

Senior man facing the winter

The year 2020 will forever be remembered for the pandemic. Nowhere has the crisis hit harder than in congregate settings for the elderly. In Canada, 80% of COVID-19 deaths occurred in long-term care homes, twice as many as in other OECD countries.

In Quebec and Ontario, particularly, reports from the military called in to help deal with the first wave of infections revealed shocking details of how we treat, or mistreat, our seniors. The federal government promised to establish a national standard for long-term care, a measure many who advocate for elders say is long overdue.

The Elder Law Section is moving a resolution urging the federal government to improve long-term care and support for older Canadians. Specifically, it wants to fast-track national quality standards, create pan-Canadian strategies for long-term care and elder abuse, improve infection prevention and control in long-term care, provide better assistance to caregivers and create a pan-Canadian disaster response for seniors.

Responsibility for long-term care is an area of provincial jurisdiction. But Brett Book of CanAge, speaking for the group that worked on the resolution, is undaunted. The Canada Health Act (CHA), he pointed out, has been eroded over the years, particularly for seniors. “Approximately 30% of Canadian health expenditures are now paid outside of public sources, placing Canada below the OECD average. COVID-19 exposed the crisis and so many seniors paid the price with their lives.”

The intention behind the resolution is to restore the intended purpose of the CHA. “We hope that provinces do not push back,” Book added. “But if they do, we welcome the challenge.”

Destigmatizing abuse and neglect

Pointing to a lack of awareness of the extent of elder abuse and neglect in Canada, the Elder Law Section urges the federal government to establish a Federal Office of the Seniors’ Advocate, launch a national awareness campaign to destigmatize elder abuse and neglect and study the feasibility of a Canadian Adult Protective Services (CAPS).

On the practical side, Book noted that “people seeking help to address elder abuse and neglect often do not know where to turn.” The Elder Law Section urges the federal government to create and staff a national toll-free hotline where Canadians could find resources in their area.

Canadian seniors need help now. The Elder Law Section is accordingly calling for prompt action. “Within the next eight months, we urge the federal government to create at a minimum National Quality Standards and, within 12 months, appoint a National Regulator,” said Book.

For more on this topic and to share your views on the proposed resolution, please visit our discussion board.