Patient advocacy group in Quebec says province violated seniors' rights with pandemic response

The head of a patient advocacy organization in Quebec says the provincial government violated the rights of residents in retirement and long-term care homes in the province by failing to respond to international warnings by the World Health Organization about their vulnerability to COVID-19.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau says long-term care crisis is a failure that 'we are going to face up to'

Paul Brunet from the Conseil pour la protection des malades told MPs on a parliamentary committee that the provincial government in Quebec failed to act on warnings from the WHO that COVID-19 would disproportionately impact the elderly. (Ryan Hicks/CBC)

The head of a patient advocacy organization in Quebec says the provincial government violated the rights of residents in retirement and long-term care homes in the province by failing to respond to international warnings by the World Health Organization about their vulnerability to COVID-19.

That accusation comes after NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau clashed today over the federal government's role in the country's long-term care homes, where 80 per cent of Canada's more than 5,000 pandemic deaths have taken place.

"They affected the fundamental rights of thousands of Quebecers and Canadians, people who had the basic right to receive vital care, to not be neglected," Paul Brunet, president of the Conseil pour la protection des malades, told MPs on a House of Commons virtual committee meeting today. "COVID-19 does not seem to be a national emergency in Quebec."

Brunet said that long-term care and retirement homes in the province saw a lack of testing, screening and treatment measures, despite warnings from the World Health Organization in late and February and early March.

"This is a scandal," Brunet said. "Three months later, after three notices by the WHO and a private note to the minister of health on this subject, [and] hundreds of media reports throughout the world, the Quebec government finally decided to act in long-term care homes."

Brunet said hospitals in Quebec were hospitalizing seniors suffering from bed sores and dehydration because they were neglected in the province's long-term care facilities.

In Quebec, more than 90 per cent of the 3,220 people who've died pandemic-related deaths have been individuals 70 years of age or older.

NDP MP Don Davies asked Marissa Lennox, chief policy officer for the Canadian Association of Retired Persons, what should be done to ensure what's happening in Canada's long-term care homes is never repeated.

She said that the Canada Health Act is one tool that could be used to raise standards but the best way forward would be to enact federal legislation on standards of care.

"The other tool is to stand up its own legislation similar to the Canada Health Act but specific to long-term institutional care, or long-term medical home care," she said.

"When we think about the kind of people that are receiving this kind of care, though, they are are requiring the highest levels of institutional care and long-term care and it should really be treated no differently [than] a hospital."

Singh vs. Trudeau

In the House of Commons today, Singh pointed out that the situation in care homes inside and outside of Quebec is so dire the military has been called in. Ontario has about 250 soldiers helping in long-term care homes, while Quebec was expected to have as many as 1,350 soldiers there by the middle of May. 

"Despite all this, the prime minister has said recently that he doesn't feel it's the federal government's responsibility to find a solution," Singh said. "How can he say that to families reeling with the loss, that it's not the federal government's responsibility to play a role in solving this problem?"

Watch: NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh on a national 'care guarantee' for long-term care:

Singh proposes national 'care guarantee' for long-term care facilities 

3 years ago
Duration 3:09
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh takes questions on his proposal to adopt a national "care guarantee" for long-term care facilities.  

Singh said the federal government should ensure there is a "national care guarantee" mandating standards in long-term care homes. He said Ottawa should increase funding distributed to the provinces, put an end to for-profit long-term care facilities and boost pay for people working in these facilities.

Trudeau pointed out that provinces are responsible for the operation of long-term care homes, while reminding Singh that his party lost most of its seats in Quebec in the last election.

"Perhaps the fact that the NDP no longer has many seats in Quebec has caused it to forget the importance of respecting the Constitution and the areas of jurisdiction of provincial vs. federal government," Trudeau said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh argued today over the appropriate role for the federal government in long-term care. (The Canadian Press)

The federal government will work with provincial governments as a partner while respecting their jurisdiction, Trudeau said.

"We respect the Constitution, we respect areas of provincial jurisdiction, but as I have said from the very beginning of this crisis, we will be there to help the provinces as they manage the challenges that they're facing," he said. 

Amanda Vyce represents members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees who work in long-term care. She said she has been calling on the federal government to work with provinces and territories to bring long-term care under the Canada Health Act, making it a publicly insured core health care service that is accessible and universal.

"COVID-19 didn't create the deadly crisis we're facing in long term care. The systemic issues that facilitated this heartbreaking situation existed long before this moment. What the pandemic is doing is shining a spotlight on those problems and making them worse," she told the House of Commons health committee last week.

Vyce also urged the federal government to provide adequate, targeted funding for long-term care through the Canada Health Transfer.

In a testy exchange with reporters in Ottawa today, Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet dismissed the suggestion that the federal government should play anything but a funding role in Quebec's long-term care homes. 

"Let's be clear. Not only do I not believe that Canada should take control of senior health care, but I believe that Quebec should take control of everything which is presently under Canadian control. I believe Quebec should be independent. It does answer the question," he said.

Blanchet went on to say that any federal money directed to Quebec to help the province improve the situation in long-term care homes should come without strings attached.

Watch: Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet on long-term care:

Blanchet on how the federal government can help Long Term Care homes

3 years ago
Duration 2:40
Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet spoke with the CBC's Julie Van Dusen on Wednesday.

Speaking with the CBC's Rosemary Barton Wednesday evening, Finance Minister Bill Morneau said his government acknowledges the problem in Canada's long-term care homes but right now the focus has to remain on making things better in the short term. 

"When it settles down, we are going to need to sit down together and think about how we reform the system," Morneau told Barton. "And I think it would be premature for me to tell you that I know how that's going to work out. 

"But it clearly is going to be something that is going to be on all our minds, and it's a responsibility that we are all going to need to take seriously because it's clearly a failure in our system, and we are going to face up to it."

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