The most vulnerable of our society are being left behind

Hill Times August 9, 2021

I had the misfortune of touring a long-term care facility in Ottawa this past month, and I was and continue to be horrified. Experts have said this specific facility is not one of the worst. It wasn’t dirty, it wasn’t unstaffed. But it also wasn’t inviting, and there was barely any programming—just a room and a hospital bed. No high quality of life. Picture an institution painted in that outdated green. Picture neglect.

Ontario long-term care has unique challenges. The June Final Report of Ontario’s Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission detailed the challenges: outdated buildings and some without air conditioning, and private facilities run by investors, rather than health-care experts. There was an almost aggressive neglect by successive governments in areas of policy to ensure stable and skilled staffing, and no basic oversight to ensure the safety of residents.

The last fact is unfortunately shared by federal and provincial and territorial governments. None has deemed long-term care enough of an issue to warrant the political capital to make the changes that we all know are needed.

So instead, our parents and elders are housed in low-quality institutions.

What if the care of your parents or even your future care was not a political issue, not a political hot potato bouncing between investors and political parties desperate for donations? What if long-term care was enshrined in our country with standards, transparent funding, accountable to the public, and a high enough quality that families don’t have to spend hours advocating or lose hours of sleepless nights over?

Federal political party insiders are debating what the election issues will be that will get them elected. It’s an equation of votes and regional weights and numbers. The cynical ones might say that these equations don’t reflect morality at all, the numbers don’t reflect the humanity of caring for our elders. Political party planners might respond that the cost to fix long-term care is so much money and we just can’t afford it. But here’s a couple of million dollars to keep you quiet.

This is the same argument that has been made for decades about Indigenous health services, as well as early childhood care for Indigenous children, Indigenous mental health services, and Indigenous education. Here’s a couple of million to keep you quiet.

Canada has a long history of underfunding services for the most vulnerable in our population. From the First Nations child who needs a hearing check, to an Inuit young mother who needs mental health supports, to the Métis Elder who needs a wheelchair; the services they receive are the bare minimum, if at all. And similarly for our parents who raised us, who now need the care they deserve. It’s the bare minimum. While Canada might be a social welfare country, we are a failure as a society. We are not caring for the most vulnerable in our society.

Nationalize long-term care and damn the federal-provincial-territorial squabbles. Set a 10 per cent tax on new home developers and a 10 per cent tax on big corporations to pay for some of it. Set up a powerful new agency with legislation to set standards for long-term care and do excellent oversight to fundamentally shift this sector into the 21st century. Set up a shared federal/provincial/territorial funding pot with 20 per cent set aside for new builds that shift the paradigm out of institution and into the village model—residents live in households in a secure shared outdoors area with stores and such, all built to engage and maintain the highest possible quality of life.

The status quo is a failure—just ask anyone with a family member in a long-term care facility. And the status quo won’t even survive the next fifteen years if we continue to increase our longevity. It’s a model ripe for systems failure.

Demand change in long-term care before you have to be admitted.