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  • Writer's pictureDr. Sandor Demeter

Personal Care Homes - Too Little, Too Late!

First of all, my deepest condolences to friends and family who have lost loved ones to COVID. This is especially poignant for those whose loved ones passed away, often alone, in personal care homes.

My Grandfather, circa 1970s.

It has taken a pandemic to expose the degree of historical policy neglect for our long-term care facilities.

Seniors are at the highest risk of death from COVID especially if they suffer from other health issues.

To quote the Manitoba Minister of Health:

"We know how incredibly serious COVID-19 is. We know that both in Manitoba and from following the rest of the world," Friesen said. "We know that COVID and long-term care homes is exceptionally serious, because of how susceptible the elderly are … and we have seen that recently." (CBC)

Historic, and ongoing, policy decisions to warehouse our loved ones in multi-unit wards with shared washrooms, inadequate staffing, and staff who need to patch together multiple jobs at several persona care homes (PCH) to make a living wage, is a recipe for disaster. And the sad news is that t

his should not be a surprise.

The Canadian Centre for Elder Law summarizes the situation:

“The hardest hit population from COVID-19 has been older adults living in long-term care. This has led to great media attention on long-term care. Issues receiving media attention include the low staffing levels, poor compensation for health care workers, and issues monitoring quality of care. However, these issues are not occurring only because of COVID-19; they are ongoing issues.”

A temporary order was issued on April 29, 2020 to restrict PCH staff movement between facilities to prevent inter-facility spread of COVID. However, there has little additional publicized proactive planning, or resource allocation, to make these facilities safer down the road. We are in a time of austerity driven “health care erosion management” mixed with reactive “crisis management”.

We are “reacting” to unacceptable circumstances at PCH, like Maples and Parkview, after the number of deaths have forced a response. Sorry, too little, too late.

To add insult to injury, and I have commented on this before (How we Really Treat our Seniors), the government refuses to release provincial PCH inspection reports. The province posts inspection reports on restaurant, including details about unsanitary conditions, and which establishments were shut down. I suspect that they do not seek the consent of restaurants before posting the inspection reports.

The Conservatives are in their second term and there is no excuse for not being transparent and release these reports, especially when folks are blocked from visiting their loved ones. Such reports could act to increase the trust in the system. However, withholding reports creates concern and speculation - what is it that “they don’t want us to know”?"

It is ironic that the current Minister of Health, Cameron Friesen, criticized the NDP about this matter when he was the health critic in 2013. Both parties have aptly demonstrated the fine art of kicking the can down the road.

The Royal Society of Canada stuck a Task Force on COVID-19 (April 2020) and their policy briefing, Overview of Restoring Trust: COVID-19 and The Future of Long-Term Care, concluded:

“Canadian nursing homes have generally been able to “just manage.” However, just managing is not adequate. Then came COVID-19, a shock wave that cracked wide all the fractures in our nursing home system. It precipitated, in the worst circumstances, high levels of physical, mental and emotional suffering for our older adults. Those lives lost unnecessarily had value. Those older adults deserved a good closing phase of their lives and a good death. We failed them. We have a duty to care and to fix this—not just to fix the current communicable disease crisis, but to fix the sector that enabled that crisis to wreak such avoidable and tragic havoc. We have the capacity, the knowledge and the resources to take immediate steps toward restoring the trust we have broken.”

“This is our choice.”

To paraphrase Gandhi, we are judged by how we treat our most vulnerable.

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