Advocates approve of national long-term care draft standards, still worry about Manitoba seniors
'We need to stop warehousing our seniors': CanAge CEO
Eddie Calisto-Tavares used to play dominoes with her father for 90 minutes during her visits at the Maples Long Term Care Home in Winnipeg.
She says that type of resident-centred approach for care was missing before her father died during a massive COVID-19 outbreak at the personal care home from October 2020 to January 2021, which claimed the lives of 56 residents.
It's also one of the approaches Calisto-Tavares, now a vocal advocate for families with loved ones in long-term care facilities, is pleased to see after the release of a draft dedicated to national standards for these facilities on Thursday.
"I am happy to see that we do have something nationally," she said.
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In 2020, the Canadian Institute for Health Information reported that in the first few months of the pandemic, 81 per cent of the country's known COVID-19 deaths occurred within long-term care facilities and retirement homes — the highest such rate among nations in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
The Health Standards Organization technical committee, which drafted the proposed standards and included Manitoba registered nurse Joyce Kristjansson, focused on resident-centred care in the draft. It had not been updated since 2020 and includes eight new sections, 17 new clauses and 148 pieces of additional criteria.
The pandemic has unmasked deadly weaknesses not only in Manitoba's long-term care sector but across the country as well.
As of Thursday morning, 32 of the Winnipeg health region's 39 long-term care facilities were dealing with active outbreaks of COVID-19.
Standards lead to 'cautious' optimism
Laura Tamblyn Watts, founder and chief executive officer of CanAge, the national seniors' advocacy organization, believes the draft takes "a big step" toward better focus on residents post-pandemic.
The addition of a department dedicated to seniors and long-term care during a cabinet shuffle by Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson earlier this month shows the commitment the province has on this front, Tamblyn Watts said.
"I think there's a good understanding in the province of how important the issue is. The question will be, is this government willing to put both the money and embed changes in their legislation for personal-care homes to really bring these standards in," she said.
"I'm cautiously optimistic but it is by no means a foregone conclusion."
The devastation in long-term care facilities throughout Manitoba during the pandemic has shone a spotlight on the problems the province has had for decades, she adds.
"We can no longer put up with the ideas that our vulnerable seniors may not be fed or bathed or changed or supported like we've seen over the course of COVID-19. We need to stop warehousing our seniors," Tamblyn Watts said.
"We need to make sure that people know that personal care homes are their personal homes, and that the care is only part of how they live their lives."
Two keep approaches
Two things in particular struck Calisto-Tavares as she pored through the national standards draft: staffing and resident-centred care.
She says there are "focused strategies to develop the workforce to create stability," but acknowledged there is a need for staff to have specific training on how to communicate and care for patients depending on the ailment they may have.
The document's proposal to keep track of staffing levels — albeit lacking specifics or even ratios — is important, but with Maples being a profitable personal-care home and having already provided false information pertaining to the lack of care being provided to residents, Calisto-Tavares warns issues could arise again.
"We want those statistics but Maples did not get penalized. They did not get their licence removed when they came on and they lied that they had staff," she said.
Calisto-Tavares hopes there are consequences going forward.
She also wants to know how who is accountable for the operation at a provincial level.
"You have to have at minimum a benchmark to know if you are working toward something. It's just like having a goal but we also need to have accountability," she said.
Calisto-Tavares admits her confidence in any new changes to long-term care actually being follow through on in the province is wavering.
She knows it's not going to be an easy transition, but it's one that is needed, especially once the pandemic ends.
"For a country like Canada, there should not be these cracks in the system," Calisto-Tavares said. "Our seniors deserve so much more and yet as a society we stood by and we accepted the neglect and the abuse that our seniors are suffering."
In an emailed statement to CBC News, a spokesperson from the Department of Seniors and Long-term Care says the draft report will be reviewed.
"These initiatives will continue to be supported by record provincial investments in personal care homes and resident safety, nearly a billion dollars over the past two years," the spokesperson said, adding that the federal health-care funding share currently sits at 22 per cent but needs to immediately increase to 35 per cent.
The Health Standards Organization draft standards will be open to public review for 60 days. The Canadian Standards Association's proposed standards, expected to be revealed next month, also will be subject to public input for 60 days. The final standards are expected this fall.
With files from Jill Coubrough