BC FORUM News - From The Advocate, Autumn 2020
LET’S NOT BEAT AROUND THE BUSH
Long term care is a real mess
The COVID -19 pandemic has put the spotlight on deep underlying problems in Canada’s health care system. There’s a crisis in care for Canada’s most vulnerable seniors – those suffering from dementia or other complex medical conditions.
Canada’s historic failure
The problem starts at the top. We don’t really have public health care. We have public acute care. Period. Hospital care? Covered. Visit to a doctor? Covered. But long term care is not in the Canada Health Act. It’s not part of our public health care system. There are no national standards.
When the B.C. Liberals were elected in 2001, their first act was a large tax cut, skewed to favour the rich. The rest of us paid for it in reduced services, and rocketing fees and premiums (like MSP).
Long term care is one of the services that suffered. The government tore up union contracts, made it harder to organize, drove down wages, and actively promoted private care.
Today, only 33 percent of B.C.’s long term care beds are public. For-profit corporations provide 35 percent, and non-profit societies 32 percent. With cost cutting and profit the priorities, jobs became precarious and levels of care were reduced.
Since 2017, the B.C. NDP government has been working to increase direct care to seniors in residential care. Training of care aides has been expanded. New staff have been hired. Over $200 million has been invested to increase direct care to the target of 3.36 hours per resident per day by 2021.
And then the pandemic hit. Long term care and assisted living facilities were ground zero for a virus that spreads most rapidly in congregate settings.
Experts like Pat Armstrong – a sociology professor at York University who led the ten-year international project Re-imagining Long-term Residential Care – say B.C. took swift, coordinated and decisive actions to stop the transmission of the virus, such as providing adequate protective gear and financially supporting frontline staff to work at only one site.
Health Minister Adrian Dix said the new staff supports would cost $10 million to $15 million a month.
As facilities started to allow visitors again, the government invested another $160 million to hire over 2,000 additional staff to provide infection prevention and control measures at all facilities, both public and private.
A further $36.5 million has been provided to cover other costs incurred to address the crisis, such as additional screening and cleaning, sick time and self isolation costs.
BC has taken impressive steps to address the emergency situation in seniors care, but a more permanent solution is required. Residential care must be included in the Canada Health Act. There must be national standards and support.