Safe Long-term Care Act coming

April 24, 2024
Soldier attending to a senior in a wheelchair.
At the beginning of the pandemic, military members were called in to help at the most gravely affected long-term care homes. Photo: Cpl. Genevieve Beaulieu.

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed and aggravated existing systemic problems in long-term care, the result of neglect by successive governments for decades. Canadians saw outbreaks and deaths in long-term care homes across the country. Facilities struggled to obtain personal protective equipment, implement safety protocols and maintain staffing levels. Some of the hardest hit facilities even had to call in the military for support and reports revealed the shocking and deplorable conditions in some of these homes. 

Early in the pandemic, 80 per cent of COVID-related deaths occurred in long-term care homes, giving Canada the distinction of having the highest such numbers among nations in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. 
Canadians, and especially those who lost loved ones, have not forgotten about the commitments made by governments to right these systemic wrongs. Action is long overdue. 

Fixing long-term care is a priority for Federal Retirees. The association has called on all levels of government to collaborate on a national review of long-term care and it has pointed out the urgent need for enhanced accountability and enforcement within the sector through mandatory national long-term care standards. 

So, when the government announced consultation on the development of a Safe Long-term Care Act, the association responded with several recommendations, informed by research and expertise, as well as by observations from the association’s volunteer advocacy program officers (APO). These volunteers are provincial/territorial leaders of advocacy initiatives and Reach 338, and they shared their insights and experiences from across the country. 

When it comes to long-term care, Canada needs: 

  • More than accreditation: mandatory, enforceable standards with accountability; 
  • Predictable, stable funding based on compliance and evidence; 
  • Person-centred, meaningful engagement; 
  • Mandatory, transparent public reporting with independent oversight and monitoring; 
  • A comprehensive report that identifies the best way forward for long-term care.

Federal Retirees was pleased with the announcement of new long-term care standards in early 2023, but from the outset the association has asserted that voluntary standards won’t ensure significant improvements in the sector — they must be mandatory. 
Provincial and territorial governments must be held accountable for the way residents are treated. Long-term care funding that is dependent on governments meeting new standards could encourage these governments to act swiftly to ensure safe, high-quality long-term care. Further, tying the funding to realistic measures, including population needs and inflation will add predictability and stability. 

Provinces and territories must produce mandatory, transparent public reports to qualify for long-term care funding. And while reporting is essential, who monitors performance and who is responsible for public reporting matters greatly. An arm’s length, independent seniors advocate or ombudsperson can play a valuable role in holding governments accountable, as well as in strengthening transparency, repairing and rebuilding public trust and in helping to keep Canadians living in long-term care safer. 

A pan-Canadian report must highlight what is working, and where facilities and governments are excelling beyond the minimum requirements. It must also report on associated outcomes. This will enable a culture of sharing best practices so others can learn and adopt similar strategies. 

Residents, family members and family council representatives are important stakeholders in fostering co-operation and implementation of national standards. Their lived experience and involvement must be prioritized and respected alongside the expertise of policy-makers and researchers. 

What’s next? 

During the consultation, one APO remarked with exasperation that she fears we’ll be in the same place 10 to 15 years from now. 
More of the same is unacceptable. All levels of government must assume responsibility. The federal government must take a leadership role and the provinces and territories must unite and collaborate. Enforceability and regulation, while difficult in a federal system, are what is needed to make a real difference. 

Federal Retirees expects a Safe Long-term Care Act to deliver on what Canadians and thousands of our members have demanded: better, safer long-term care. 

Visit our Long-term and home care page to add your voice to Federal Retirees’ call for mandatory, enforceable long-term care standards.

This article appeared in the winter 2023 issue of Sage magazine as part of our “Health Check” series, which addresses timely health questions and health-related policies with a focus on issues affecting older Canadians. While you’re here, why not download the full issue and peruse our back issues too?