Since COVID-19 first arrived in Ontario and began to spread in long-term care homes, it has brought to light an area of the health care system that has been broken for decades. In 2003, The Star spent a year investigating flaws in the long-term care system and, for years, has kept tabs on issues of neglect, understaffing, poor wages and more. We asked residents’ family members, healthcare workers, lobbyists and opinion leaders what they would like to see happen in order to bring about change in long-term care.
Kimberly Lyn, Digital Writer, Daughter of Long-Term Care Home Resident
My mother went to long-term care a few days before the global pandemic was declared. In summer, the establishment experienced an epidemic. Unfortunately, my mother contracted COVID, but luckily she only faced a cough and fatigue.
I think we need more resources dedicated to more strategic communications. Long-term care homes certainly need more resources and more help, but now you’re also asking them to do some extra work of mass communication with the families of the residents. There is a lot of information overload; there are often communication problems with family members.
It’s very disappointing that you do your best to stay on top of all the information they send out, but then you miss something and it sort of ruins the ability to hang out with your loved one.
Maureen Halushak, editor-in-chief of Chatelaine, daughter of a long-term care resident
My mom has been in a long-term care home for almost two years. My family has not been home for 50 days since the start of an epidemic in November.
The outbreak has been a horrific and eye-opening experience for the way long-term care is run by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.
Regular and unannounced inspections of every home every year are important. I would also like to see more transparency with inspection results, like when restaurants display their inspection results on their windows. Residents and their families need to know the immediate condition of the houses.
Celina Caesar-Chavannes, former MP and author
Many personal support workers are women from marginalized or racialized communities. We continue to put them on the front lines – first to get vaccinated, but yet they are the last to receive the benefits they need, access to adequate health care, access to pay equity .
(And) I think it’s more than just a pay raise. We need to make sure they have sick days and adequate benefits. Access to child care is a long-term goal – it must be affordable and accessible to people.
Nathan Stall, geriatrician at Mount Sinai Hospital and researcher at the University of Toronto
What is happening in our long-term care homes is a humanitarian disaster. Many hospital systems are being pushed to the brink. So there are things to do urgently.
First, we absolutely need to control community spread. We cannot rely on the vaccine as a free release card. A tougher, stricter and more brutal public health response is needed.
Things like paid sick leave and moratoriums on evictions will help people in hardest-hit communities better comply with prevention measures.
In long-term care homes, we need more support for infection prevention and control in the field, better medical management and support. We must immediately get vaccines into the hands of all residents of long-term care facilities. If we can protect them as a population then we could ease a huge load on our health care system and dramatically reduce the death toll.
Naheed Dosani, palliative care physician
I would like to see the end of the for-profit long-term care industry as we know it and ultimately see long-term care become part of our public health care system, including us as Canadians. , are so proud.
I dream of a society that recognizes our elders for who they are: our mothers and fathers, our brothers and sisters, our friends and our neighbors, and gives them the system they deserve. Not a system designed to protect businesses from human life or put profits before people.
This includes improving staffing, disrupting the system that exploits frontline workers, often racialized women, meeting design standards, creating transparency and accountability.
Sharleen Stewart, President of SEIU Healthcare
The truth about care for the elderly is that it cannot be done without the practical care of healthcare workers – it is about people.
Government policy makers and chain retirement home owners refuse to face this truth because it would require supporting the workers they have become accustomed to exploiting.
As the pandemic raged, we saw these chains paying millions in cash to shareholders, as elderly people died under their supervision.
We can only recruit and retain the people we need to provide safe, quality and convenient care if we pay for them. This must include full time jobs and a living wage.
Miranda Ferrier, Co-Founder and President of the Ontario Personal Support Workers Association and the Canadian Association of Support Workers
Conditions in long-term care will remain dire and worsen until the people of this province professionally recognize the role of the personal support worker in delivering the bulk of patient care.
Patients and residents of long-term care facilities deserve to be cared for by professional PSWs who are regulated and professionally accountable to the people of this province.
Donna Duncan, CEO of the Ontario Long-Term Care Association
We must work together and take immediate action to protect residents of long-term care facilities from COVID-19, while responding to issues that arise urgently. It starts with stabilizing and growing our workforce by creating the conditions that will allow our people to feel secure and supported.
We can do this by vaccinating our residents, staff and essential visitors as quickly as possible, expanding rapid on-site testing, further improving infection prevention and control measures, ensuring homes can quarantine new admissions and providing homes with adequate personal protective equipment.
While vaccines offer hope, we must take these steps now to prevent further tragedies. A lost life is too much.
Jean Kuehl, retired long-term care home nurse
I worked in for-profit long-term care homes for 28 years and retired a year ago. The best way to improve long-term care is to hire more nurses immediately.
Qualified and regulated staff – RNs, RPNs and nurse practitioners – would make a huge difference in the care our vulnerable residents receive. We need more staff in general, including PSWs and nurses.
To attract nurses, new positions must be full-time, not casual or part-time. Clinical judgment of nurses should be respected, ensuring that they have full access to the range of equipment (for example, personal protective equipment such as N95s), supplies and resources that they need .
More RNs in long-term care homes would make a huge difference to residents. Residents are living longer, but with multiple and complex medical conditions that require skilled nursing care.
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