Manitoba

Manitoba care homes say they're chronically underfunded, understaffed, need government to help

As the COVID-19 pandemic shines a spotlight on challenges within long-term care facilities, more than two dozen personal care home operators in Manitoba are urging the provincial government to increase funding to improve living conditions for seniors.

'We've been asked to do significantly more with the same resources' during pandemic, says Actionmarguerite CEO

Leesa Streifler with her 90-year-old mother, Sheila, in Winnipeg. Leesa said her mother, who lives in a long-term care facility, is showing signs of decline because of limited visits with family. (Submitted by Leesa Streifler)

Leesa Streifler says her 90-year-old mother, who lives in a Winnipeg long-term care home, is declining because of a lack of family contact.

Despite the province loosening restrictions, she said the facility cannot accommodate more than two 15 to 30 minute visits per week because of a staffing shortage.

"She's fearful, she's unhappy, she's not eating as well," Streifler said. "Every time I talk to her, she tells me she's terrible. My heart is just broken."

Her mother, Sheila, lives in a home run by one of the more than two dozen private, non-profit personal care home operators in the province now calling on the Manitoba government to increase operational funding and staffing to improve seniors' care.

Julie Turenne-Maynard, executive director of MARCHE — The Manitoba Association of Residential and Community Care Homes for the Elderly — says the COVID-19 pandemic is shining a spotlight on long-term care across the country and highlighting the consequences of a 10-year funding freeze in Manitoba.

Turenne-Maynard says while Manitoba's personal care homes have been largely fortunate in the fight against COVID-19, they have been chronically underfunded, despite increasing costs and needs from residents.

"There are personal care homes in Manitoba that are over 40 years old, and they have multiple beds per room," said Turenne-Maynard. "Those are things ... that need to be addressed."

Over the last decade, "many personal care homes … have not seen any funding increase for basic operations," MARCHE said in a press release outlining its concerns on Monday.

Over the same period, dietary expenses at homes operated by MARCHE's members have increased by 36 per cent and the cost of incontinence supplies increased by 50 per cent, the association said.

Aging infrastructure is another issue. The association estimates care homes in Manitoba's non-profit sector each need an average of $6 million in upgrades.

Turenne-Maynard said at a minimum, personal care homes need to see an annual funding increase in line with the cost of inflation.

Staffing, budgets stretched during pandemic

The association is also urging the province to fund higher staffing levels, saying they have remained the same since 2009. 

Laurie Cerqueti, CEO of the the Saul and Claribel Simkin Centre in Winnipeg, said she sympathizes with families who would like to visit their loved ones more often.

However, the process is labour-intensive for staff due to added public health measures during the pandemic, she said.

Staff must prebook visits with families, screen guests, move seniors to and from visitation areas, and supervise the visit.

Cerqueti said they are also dealing with a restricted staffing pool, because people can only work at one facility during the pandemic, and some workers are taking summer vacations.

She said she would like to see additional funding from the Manitoba government to help with the added labour of co-ordinating visits.

"We've been asked to do significantly more with the same resources," said Charles Gagné, CEO of Actionmarguerite, a MARCHE member which operates three personal cares homes in Winnipeg.

"We do know that financially this will be a year where [the] expectation for us to be able to balance our budget will be quasi-impossible."

Steps taken to keep homes safe: minister

In an email statement, Health Minister Cameron Friesen pointed to $280-million in funding the province announced in June for safety upgrades in personal care homes, to ensure the facilities are in line with fire code requirements. 

"We find it disappointing that MARCHE would downplay the significance of such an important investment," he said.

"When COVID-19 arrived in Manitoba, we instituted steps to keep our personal care homes safe, including strict visitor restrictions, enhanced screening for staff and the implementation of the one-site staffing model designed to stop the spread of the virus to residents," the statement went on to say.

"Due to careful planning and adherence to public health guidelines, Manitoba currently has some of the lowest transmission rates in the country."

Friesen did not address claims of a funding freeze.

He said he is calling on all long-term care providers and their associations to work with regional health authorities and families "to do everything possible to increase visits at this time."

Turenne-Maynard said the $280-million investment, while important, does not address operational funding shortfalls and the need for more staff.

Streifler said something needs to change before her mother declines further.

She has booked a visit with her on Wednesday, but they will sit two metres apart, outdoors, for just 30 minutes.

"The government needs to act immediately so that we don't lose this precious time," she said.

"To think that these are the last years of her life and that she's spending them this way is crushing."

Leesa Streifler says her 90-year-old mother, who lives in a Winnipeg long-term care home, is declining because of a lack of family contact. 2:14

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