OTTAWA—Advocates and experts in long-term health care say now is the time for Ottawa to intervene when it comes to the inhumane treatment of seniors in nursing homes across the country.
When the number of deaths related to COVID-19 started mounting in April, federal officials promised to work with provinces to better protect seniors in the future.
Then came damning military reports, outlining cases of abuse and acts of negligence in the Ontario and Quebec long-term care facilities where troops had been deployed to help during the pandemic.
The military found insect infestations, the aggressive feeding of residents that caused choking, bleeding infections, and residents crying for help for hours.
Federal and provincial politicians expressed disgust and dismay at what the military uncovered and promised action, but researchers, experts and advocates say they’ve been raising the same concerns for years to no avail.
While disappointed it took military interference to bring the issue to the foreground, they say this should finally spur some kind of federal action to deal with the problem.
“We have to stop the bickering and the jurisdictional issues and act together so that we have some national standards, some national expectations, some resources that are attached to that,” said Carole Estabrooks, who has collected data on long-term care for 15 years as the head of the Translating Research in Elder Care program at the University of Alberta.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh called the allegations outlined by the military “appalling” and said Ottawa must take swift action to address the situation.
He has been advocating to bring the long-term care system under the Canada Health Act, blaming many of the problems in these centres on the for-profit model under which many seniors’ homes in Canada operate.
“We want the federal government to show leadership on this, and not hide behind jurisdiction,” Singh said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said respecting provincial jurisdiction will be an important part of responding to the issues with long-term care.
“The Constitution of Canada is not an excuse. It lays out the divisions of powers and responsibilities and we respect the province’s jurisdiction over long-term care facilities,” he said Wednesday during an exchange with Singh during the special committee on COVID-19 in the House of Commons.
During the prime minister’s daily briefing with the media, he said he’d be speaking with premiers about the situation in long-term care during his weekly call with them Thursday.
When asked about setting national standards for long-term care, the prime minister said he didn’t want to “short circuit” those discussions by making “aggressive proposals.”
“We’re working with the provinces right now to make sure they serve our seniors in the right way,” he said.
For now, the government is focused on responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in long-term care, he said.
By Laura Osman
With files from Teresa Wright in Ottawa