Long-term care homes across the globe have suffered unduly from COVID-19; residents in Canada’s system seem to be suffering more than others with 80% of COVID-19 deaths being among seniors. Experts call it ‘benign neglect’ and admit “Nobody set out to plan a system that will hurt older adults.” While policy-makers and politicians have vowed to find a fix, the path to change remains unclear. However, the Canadian public has never been more tragically aware.

What are the indicators? The shift from publicly-owned to the for-profit model is often blamed, while others point to the Canada Health Act’s focus on acute care in hospitals, not chronic care in the community, which is the current reality for seniors.

Almost half of Canadian long-term care homes are for-profit, which research indicates have lower staffing levels; controlling labour costs is key to being profitable. This has resulted in part-timers, split-shifts, casual labour and  staff that is too busy to deliver the care they are trained to provide. Workers take multi-location shifts in order to make a living, all of which became lethal during a pandemic when workers can unknowingly be exposed and became carriers.

Clearly, the staffing models must change; full-time work with benefits, sufficient staff levels to allow time to care-for and care for residents; benefits to make it possible to staff to commit to a location and its residents.

Will the lessons from this pandemic make for lasting changes? Talk to your MP, your government, make noise in your community. Keep the momentum going! Press politicians for progress on nursing home inquiries – what is their scope, who will chair it, what are the recommendations and how will they roll out?

These treasured seniors are the people who built and protected our wonderful country. Don’t we owe them that?