Action needed now to fix issues in long-term care homes

The Canadian military’s damning report of ongoing neglect and elder abuse in long-term care homes across Ontario and Quebec struck a chord with Canadians coast-to-coast.

And with good reason.

The idea that many of our country’s most vulnerable were treated in such a matter is disturbing on so many levels. One can only imagine the outrage families of residents in the five Ontario homes cited in the report must feel. For those living hundreds of kilometres away, they’ve trusted the staff in those homes to care for their mother, father, grandparent, close friend, only to hear prison inmates have received better care than these seniors. In some cases, just finding a long-term care home with space available can be a challenge, as many have long waiting lists. There’s supposed to be a sense of relief when a family member finds a home, as it’s supposed to mean they will now be taken care of for their golden years.

Quite the contrary in some homes according to the military’s report. Disgusting conditions of rotting food left in hallways, cockroaches, seniors left in soiled clothing and fed inadequate amounts of food were among the most bothersome allegations in the report. This is the generation that gave so much to this country, seeing our nation through WWII and helping to build many of our communities into what they are today.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford was quoted as saying “reading this report is the hardest thing I have done as premier.” Given the details made public of the report, it’s not hard to believe him.

Perhaps most troubling of all, these abuses would be still unknown if not for the fact the military was called in as a desperate attempt to try and curb the spread of COVID-19 in long-term care homes. Upon reading the reports, it’s no mystery why so many long-term care homes have been devastated by the spread of the virus. While it is true the senior population is more at risk of contracting the disease and for it to turn fatal, the report indicated there was much more at play. In the homes observed by military staff, there appeared to be a complete disregard for the government’s recommendation of isolating those showing COVID-19 symptoms. In Ontario alone, 27 senior homes were critically affected by the pandemic. The Canadian military is expected to move through many of those homes throughout the month of June in an effort to get them stabilized by helping with day-to-day care of seniors, cleaning and meal distribution.

These reports will hopefully be a catalyst towards a huge overhaul of the system that ultimately fixes the root of the problem, but it’s naive to think they’ve suddenly stopped with the release of last week’s report.

Members of the military also observed staff were overworked, burned out and under trained. That doesn’t excuse some of their behaviour toward the residents, which in some cases was described as ‘bullying’, but it at least gives those tasked with fixing the problem a starting point.

Given the long list of problems noted in the five homes cited in the report, fixing this issue won’t happen overnight. It’s going to take the cooperation of all levels of government as well-that means forgoing the usual theatrics of passing the blame from federal to provincial and vice versa, and coming up with real answers-and fast. Not only is there the immediate issue at hand of improving quality of care amid a pandemic, but this is a problem that isn’t going away anytime soon. A government of Canada report published in March 2019 cited seniors-those aged 65 and older-make up 15.6 per cent of Canada’s population. That represents six million people in Canada. Locally, a 2018 vital signs report shows the average age of a resident in Prince Edward County was 54.5 years-of-age. That’s more than a decade older than the rest of Canada as a whole, which averaged at 41.3 years-of-age.

With the average population living longer and Baby Boomers and the Baby Boom Echo fast approaching behind them, the need for safe, quality long-term care homes is only going to grow. The time to equip them to care for residents properly and with dignity, is now.

-Adam Prudhomme