Health Canada is preparing new legislation to improve long-term care, and has launched an online portal to receive comments from the public.
But the Canadian Health Coalition is concerned the government’s approach to the Safe Long-Term Care Act is too weak to bring about the changes required to fix the troubled health care sector, such as enforcing national standards, phasing out for-profit investors, and ensuring accountability for funding.
Signaling a more timid response than the federal government previously committed to taking, Health Canada officials have declared the new legislation will not mandate standards and will leave regulating long-term care to the provinces.
Health coalition members have repeatedly called for enforceable national standards, along with a phase-out of private, for-profit companies operating in the long-term care sector. Groups released a legal opinion on the Safe Long-term Care Act which suggested additional measures.
“National standards should include minimum hours of direct care, sometimes described as four hours per day, an appropriate workforce mix, and improved working conditions such as full-time employment and higher wages,” I said on behalf of the Canadian Health Coalition to Health Canada officials consulting health care organizations and experts in July.
“Structural changes are needed that promote a shift to public or private long-term care delivery that is non-profit. Ownership of Rivera by the Public Service Pension Investment Board provides an opportunity for the federal government to show leadership,” I added.
Liberals’ weakening resolve on long-term care
Data published by the Canadian Institute for Health Research in December 2021 found residents in Canada’s long-term care homes have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 infections and deaths. In Canada, long-term care residents accounted for three per cent of all COVID-19 cases and 43 per cent of COVID-19 deaths.
Responding to public outrage over the terrible number of deaths and shocking stories in long-term care homes during the pandemic, the Liberals promised to take strong action, committing $9-billion over 10 years for long-term care in the 2021 election.
“A re-elected Liberal government will work with provinces and territories to introduce the Safe Long-term Care Act to ensure that standards of care are upheld across the country,” said the party’s platform.
But since forming a minority government, the Liberals’ commitment to ensuring standards of care are upheld has softened.
After the election, former Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos was mandated by the Prime Minister to “develop national standards and a Safe Long-Term Care Act to ensure seniors get the care they deserve (emphasis added).”
But now, Health Canada admits that the new legislation won’t enforce national standards, declaring in the consultation’s backgrounder that, “Legislation will be respectful of provincial-territorial jurisdiction. That is, it won’t mandate standards or regulate long-term care delivery.”
Researchers call for inquiry over pandemic tragedy
This week, there was a call issued for an inquiry into the government’s handling of the pandemic, which killed over 50,000 people in Canada. Researchers point to data that shows Canada did not fare well in some aspects of its pandemic response, highlighting how COVID-19 ravaged the country’s long-term-care homes — leading to a disproportionate number of deaths.
“Ultimately the test must be: had the proposed Safe Long-Term Care Act been in place before the pandemic – would we have avoided the terrible conditions and deaths in the long-term care sector – especially in for-profit facilities,” I urged Health Canada officials in the consultation.
Liberal-NDP agreement calls for “guarantees” – not more promises
The NDP, perhaps sensing the softening of the Liberals on fixing long-term care, made it a condition of their party’s support for the minority Liberal government.
In March of 2022, the Prime Minister promised NDP leader Jagmeet Singh that the government would table the Safe Long-Term Care Act before the end of their three-year agreement in June 2025.
“The commitment from the Prime minister is to table a Safe Long-Term Care Act to ensure that seniors are guaranteed the care they deserve, no matter where they live,” I said. “I’d like to emphasize the word ‘guaranteed.’ Following national standards should be mandatory as a condition of federal funding.”
The Canadian Health Coalition has launched its Health and Hope 2025 campaign to achieve the full delivery of health care commitments made in the 2022 Liberal-NDP Confidence and Supply Agreement before its conclusion in 2025, including:
- Public dental care
- Universal pharmacare
- Frontline health care investments
- Safe long-term care
The terms of the Confidence and Supply Agreement are viewed as a minimum requirement, and we will work to ensure the strongest delivery possible on these commitments.
Everyone is invited to sign up to the campaign – click here and scroll to the bottom of the page to sign up!