Canada Failed To Protect Seniors In The First Wave Of COVID-19 – Will The Same Mistakes Happen Again?

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As COVID-19 cases increase across Canada and nursing home outbreaks flare up again, experts say vulnerable elderly populations are at extreme risk in Wave 2 due to a lack of government action.

Long-term care facilities were the most affected by the first wave of the pandemic in Canada, with more than 70% of deaths from COVID-19 occurring in those over 80, sure twice the average rate of other developed countries.

“This is one of the most devastating failures of the pandemic,” said Dr. Andrew Boozary, executive director of health and social policy at the University Health Network in Toronto.

“If we were to be judged on how we have protected our most vulnerable people and people who are structurally vulnerable, we have failed them.

Dozens of COVID-19 outbreaks have recently been reported in nursing homes Ontario, Before Christ, Alberta and Québec as the second wave arrives in much of Canada.

WATCH | Trudeau discusses the role of the federal government in long-term care:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau explains what prompted his government to start a dialogue with the provinces on national standards for long-term care facilities. 1:49

In his address to the nation on Wednesday evening, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the situations experienced by “too many seniors” in long-term care homes are “unacceptable”.

“This has to change and it will change,” he said. “We will work with the provinces and territories to set new national standards for long-term care. ”

But Canada’s systemic failures in long-term care are nothing new, and neither do the calls to action.

Deficiencies in long-term care, a long-standing problem

A July report from the Royal Society of Canada, an association that includes some of Canada’s top scientists and scholars, has described COVID-19 as “a shock wave that shattered all the fractures in our nursing home system.” He called on the federal government to act “immediately” by creating national standards of care.

Months later, no concrete action has yet been taken and the second wave of COVID-19 infections is well underway in previously hard-hit provinces such as Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec.

Trudeau admitted at a press conference on Friday that problems in long-term care facilities “existed long before COVID-19”.

Canadian Armed Forces personnel, along with hospital staff and some education workers, were among those brought in to help long-term care homes during the first wave of the pandemic. A military report then detailed the abuse, neglect and cruelty inside the nursing homes. (Ryan Remiorz / The Canadian Press)

“The systems we had were inadequate across the country,” he said. “They weren’t up to the task of protecting our elders appropriately. ”

But experts wonder why the process of resolving these systemic issues has only just begun.

“The writing is on the wall that it was supposed to happen yesterday,” Boozary said.

“Fail to ensure that all the measures, all the resources are in place to protect these families and their loved ones – to me, it’s just overwhelming, it’s blatant. ”

The premier was quick to point out that long-term care is “very clearly a provincial jurisdiction”, adding that the federal government was busy helping provinces “get it under control” at the start of the pandemic.

“Whether it was sending the military or the Red Cross, or sending additional financial support to vulnerable healthcare workers, the federal government was busy acting,” he said.

But Trudeau also said the need for national long-term care standards only became clear to his government after “conversations with Canadians and the provinces” following the devastation caused by the first wave of the pandemic. .

Long-term care facilities not prepared for wave two

A group of major stakeholders in Ontario’s long-term care system this week sent a 60-page letter to Ontario Premier Doug Ford and the Ministers of Health and Long-Term Care, calling to “immediate action” to protect the health of residents and staff and family members.

“In the absence of these measures and government support, Ontario’s long-term care homes are not currently ready to handle a second wave of COVID-19,” the letter said, including The Globe and Mail made a first report.

WATCH | The Prime Minister of Canada on the second wave of COVID-19 in the country:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke to Canadians in a rare national address from his office on Parliament Hill. 1:47

“The recent surge in cases in Ontario and other provinces is a warning that we have little time to waste,” he said. “We need decisive action now. ”

Dr. Anna Banerji, infectious disease expert and director of the Faculty of Indigenous and Refugee Health at the University of Toronto, said she was not convinced Canadian long-term care homes had provided the changes needed to protect the elderly second wave residents.

“We don’t want to see the same kind of disasters that we saw in the spring where we had all these people dying and the people who were living basically living in poverty,” she said. “If it happens again, it’s a real failure. ”

Banerji said nursing homes should ensure they have no more than one resident per room with individual access to their own bathroom, while staff should have protective equipment. adequate individual and infection control training – something they lacked in the first wave.

Dr Aisha Lofters, a family doctor and researcher at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto, said nursing homes must also ensure that staff do not put residents at unnecessary risk.

“In the beginning, we saw a lot of people who worked in multiple long-term care homes, part-time and casual, having to move from house to house to house,” she said.

“We have seen the devastating effects of this. “

National standards for long-term care must be applied

Toronto physician and health justice advocate Dr Naheed Dosani welcomes the creation of national standards for long-term care, but hopes homes that violate them face serious consequences.

“One of the things we need to be aware of is that at least in Ontario, for-profit homes have been shown to mostly have a higher proportion of deaths,” he said.

Dosani said he wanted national standards to create a baseline for care in nursing homes across Canada, so that older people do not suffer the consequences.

“They already suffered in the first wave. I hope they don’t have to suffer and that fewer people will have to die in the second wave, ”he said.

“Why would we allow this to happen in the second wave?” The federal government has the ability to set the bar where it needs to be so that the standard of care is met so this does not happen again.


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