TORONTO - The argument is not a new one: change is needed for those living in Long-Term-Care homes (LTC). That concept is on the minds of supporters of the “Time to Care Act” (Bill 13).
As reported by Corriere Canadese’s own Mariella Policheni, the bill passed second reading on October 29th in Ontario’s Legislature. It now proceeds to the Standing Committee on Social Policy. Although Bill 13 is a Private Member’s Bill, it is line with the Ontario’s LTC Covid-19 Commission’s recommendations that each resident receive a minimum of four (4) hours of direct care per day.
The systemic issues in LTC homes existed prior to the pandemic. Covid- 19 was the “breaking point”. According to the State of Public Health Report in Canada 2020, in the first eight months of the year, resident deaths in LTC facilities represented 80% of all Covid-19 related fatalities.
Across the nation, provinces are experiencing the “second wave” of infections. In Ontario, the virus seems to be gaining strength. Cases are also on the rise in Ontario’s LTC homes. Since September 1st, the province has reported over 1,000 new infections among residents in LTC homes.
This brings the cumulative total of positive cases to 6,941 since the start of the pandemic. The situation appears grim in Ontario LTC homes. Sadly, as of November 1st, a total of 2,013 seniors living in these congregate settings have succumbed to the deadly virus. The population within these facilities is more susceptible to severe outcomes due to their advanced age and complex medical conditions of the residents.
It is commonly understood now that “pandemic preparedness” did not extend into LTC settings, leaving residents vulnerable to contagion. Limited infection prevention and control, a shortage of PPE and chronic understaffing were just some of the issues that lead to the massive outbreaks experienced during the first wave. But, staffing shortages have plagued the LTC sector for years.
The public health crisis exposed the dire issues within the sector. In response to these issues, the Commission’s first set of interim recommendations, released late October, call on “the government… to increase permanent funding for more nurses and support staff”.
As part of the government’s plan in supporting LTC homes through the fall and future waves, it is investing over half a billion dollars into the LTC sector. The announcements made over the past weeks and months have included [proposed] investments and actions to strengthen the workforce by recruiting, training, and retaining staff.
Additionally, the government is beginning to recognize the important role of family caregivers in the well-being of residents. During the first wave, the majority of establishments halted entry of visitors to their facilities, which included those who were acting as essential caregivers to residents.
Family caregivers play a critical role in the physical/mental health and well-being of seniors in these facilities. Supporters of residents living in LTC homes are advocating for their protection. The “More than Just a Visitor Act” (Bill 203), which passed the second reading (September 24) is awaiting standing committee before the third and final reading.
Once approved, the Act should (a) protect the rights of people receiving care, support, and services, in such congregate care settings, and (b) ensure access to designated caregivers, especially during a crisis.
Under the new visitor restrictions imposed during the “second wave” of Covid-19, the Ontario government would permit essential care givers access to residents in LTC facilities. For now, it is a waiting game, until such laws are passed, and regulations implemented.
Unless further progress is made in improving the quality of care for our seniors living in LTC homes, their lives hang in the balance.