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Commentary: COVID-19 and seniors housing, long-term care facilities

Examine programs from other countries

Reading the headline about seniors and COVID-19 on Google search: Long-term care deaths from COVID-19, Canada has double the average of other developed countries.  

Do not confuse Central Alberta’s seniors housing with reports from Eastern Canada.  

We appreciate the efforts of our local institutions and long-term care providers. Much of the following findings compare Ontario facilities with those in Australia.  

Once governments decide to make changes to Canadian long-term care facilities legislation, they should start by examining programs from other countries.  
Holland, and the Scandinavian countries have an array of programs varying from inter-generational communities and those suitable for seniors with dementia.

Financing senior long-term care institutions and programs depends upon each country’s priorities.  

Aging demographics will affect future long-term care planning. The report identified at least four issues differentiating the Australia system from that of Ontario.   

1. Unplanned inspections of facilities:

Australia requires at least one annual unplanned inspection of every senior care facility.

Individual complaints are investigated separately in addition to the annual inspection.  

Institutions must remedy deficits from either investigation within 28 days. Failure to meet that deadline results in penalties including possible loss of licence to operate.

We’ve learned in recent years Ontario had significantly reduced the number of random comprehensive inspections.

2. Staffing levels, qualifications, and compensation:

Patients and families should ask about caregiver qualifications and training, thus having realistic expectations of care.

Some provinces may require caregivers to be responsible for 36 patients a shift.

Some patients require two people to turn them and/or to help them out of bed. More than two baths a week may not be possible.

In Australia, with adequate staffing, patients can be turned regularly and have almost daily baths.   

Staff compensation is another issue identified during this COVID-19 pandemic.

To control costs, some long-term care homes hire predominantly temporary or casual staff.  

To make a living wage, some employees work in several nursing homes. Some of these caregivers have unknowingly spread the COVID-19 virus to patients in their different places of employment.

3. Private (for-profit) homes, public and non-profit homes:

Private nursing homes frequently hire casual and temporary staff. Whereas, in public or not-for-profit homes, government funding is usually used for equipment, maintenance and staffing.  

Permanent staff may become advocates for their patients and patients’ families and even to their institutions, resulting in fewer work absences.

4. Politics:

Recent newspaper headlines stated Alberta needed to update its nursing home legislation.  

We all can support seniors and their families by forwarding our expectations and comments to our MLAs.  

All levels of government want to enable seniors to have the best care possible.

Taking advantage of this opportunity helps support governments, our seniors, and eventually ourselves. Most importantly we (Canada) will not have such high rates of COVID-19 or future diseases.  

The Age-Friendly Committee is part of of the Olds Institute.