• Post published:November 4, 2020
  • Reading time:4 mins read
  • Post category:In Ottawa
Madam Speaker, on October 23, I asked when the government would be implementing national standards for long-term care. I was pleased with the response from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health, and I am eager to hear him expand on his comments. However, I will take a moment to underscore the gravity of the situation facing workers and residents in long-term care homes.

I speak today as a Canadian, as a New Brunswicker, as a granddaughter and as a human being. This conversation must be centred squarely on the needs of people. COVID-19 has asked us to face ugly truths about our society, ones we knew existed but were happy to ignore until, sadly, for many it was too late.

As we know, it is older Canadians who face the greatest risk when it comes to COVID-19. Despite early warnings, our statistics demonstrate that while individuals 80 years and older represent only 12% of all COVID-19 cases to date, they make up 71% of the deaths. While only 15% of COVID-19 cases in Canada have been in long-term care facilities, they still represent 77% of all COVID-19 deaths in Canada.

We know the seniors living in these homes, of which around two thirds are women, are vulnerable. Unfortunately, the people tasked with their care and protection are also vulnerable. A recent report has demonstrated that up to 90% of direct-resident care in long-term care facilities is provided by resident aids or personal support workers. These professions are notorious for their low wages and part-time hours. Of note is that almost 90% of these workers are women, often from racialized and marginalized groups, including newcomers; 25% to 30% work more than one job; and 65% report having insufficient time to properly complete care tasks. We are failing to support vulnerable workers to succeed and, in turn, we are leaving older Canadians with inadequate access to care.

I always like to bring these numbers home. Resident assistants in New Brunswick at a long-term care home will make between $14 and $16 an hour. They will work enough hours over the course of a year to bring home just $24,635, which is $6,000 less than the Canadian average for their colleagues in other provinces. To put that into perspective, it is only a little more than half of the 2018 market basket measure for Fredericton.

The New Brunswick Nurses Union recently released an eye-opening report, blowing the whistle on the state of long-term care in New Brunswick. Even though a 2019 study by the Canadian Health Coalition identified 4.1 hours of care per resident per day to be the minimum standard for quality care, the number of care hours prescribed by the Government of New Brunswick is only 2.89, and some homes are unable to meet even that low standard.

It is clear that long-term care homes, both private and public, take advantage of low-income, part-time and often marginalized workers. They struggle to maintain a full staff complement because the work conditions and pay are so meagre. They do not balance their teams of RAs and PSWs with adequate numbers of LPNs and RNs to handle the increasingly complex care required in these homes. The residents see fewer and fewer hours of care time with staff and their conditions worsen. Then in a pandemic, we see front and centre just how vulnerable they can be and what real risks emerge.
This is a question of how we treat our elders and it is a women’s issue. However, at the end of the day, this is about human dignity, dignity for the residents of long-term care homes and dignity for the workers.

I have used data points from several different organizations, many of which have called for elements of long-term care to be pulled under the Canada Health Act. Many of these groups have called explicitly for the implementation of national standards. On October 26, I added my voice to that of the Canadian Health Coalition, the Royal Society of Canada and the Council of Canadians, among others.

The parliamentary secretary confirmed for me that day that his government would work with the provinces and territories to continue setting new national standards for long-term care. Could he please expand on those efforts?