In Ontario, as of May 11th, 1,235 residents of long-term care homes have died from COVID-19 related illness. That is 74 per cent of the total 1,669 deaths from this virus in the province. Quebec is worse off with more than 80 per cent of all COVID-19 related deaths occurring in its long-term care homes. While those deaths have been due to a deadly virus, responsibility ultimately lies with a care system that is haphazard and ill-prepared to handle a viral outbreak of this magnitude.
The modern health care system that Canadians enjoy is supposed to provide cradle-to-the-grave coverage for everyone. Our health care system is lauded around the world for leaving no one behind. Yet in this pandemic, the long-term care system that is part of our health care system has failed the sector of the population that needs it the most – the elderly.
The problem of long-term care homes is not just in Ontario and Quebec, it is a national problem. Across the country, the death rates from COVID-19 are higher in the long-term care system than the rest of the population. For too long, provincial governments have tinkered with their systems, offering what is the opposite of a uniform level of care.
Since the 1990s in Ontario, starting with Bob Rae and continuing with Mike Harris, a hodgepodge mixture of private contractors, private ownership, non-profit, and government-run care has been created.
Many buildings in Ontario are out of date, with four people per room – a thin piece of fabric is the only “wall” a resident has from another. Facilities rely on assistance from other levels of government or extensive fundraising from the public to upgrade. Staff frequently have to work in multiple homes because they are not guaranteed full-time employment. While government has improved standards of care on paper, it has not made the proper investment to implement those improvements. Private companies providing care answer to shareholders first. Long-term care facilities look after the elderly. That includes those who are frail, or suffer from physical or mental issues including Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. These facilities also look after those who cannot afford to live elsewhere on their own.
In the face of this COVID-19 crisis, the need to overhaul the long-term care home sector has never been more clear. What is needed is for elder-care to become a full-fledged part of the health care system. That means proper investment of money and a uniform level of care, and protection for its residents. Our elderly deserve no less.