Canada’s long-term care system needs to change, human rights advocate says

The high number of COVID-19 deaths among residents of long-term care homes points to the urgent need to reform Canada’s seniors’ care system, says an advocate for the human rights of seniors.

Margaret Gillis, president of the International Longevity Centre-Canada, said the lack of uniform standards for seniors’ care at the federal level leaves older Canadians vulnerable to both elder abuse and tragedies like the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We need to put the health and rights of Canadians before everything else,” said Gillis in an interview airing today on The House.

“The provinces and territories and the [federal] government all need to work together and they need to do it now.”

Human rights advocate Margaret Gillis on how the COVID-19 pandemic has unleashed a reckoning about how seniors are treated in Canada. 9:05

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam said on Thursday that almost half of all the people in the country who have died of the respiratory disease have ties to long-term care homes.

Several facilities — including the Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver, B.C. and the Pinecrest Nursing Home in Bobcaygeon, Ont. — have seen more than a dozen of their residents die in the past few weeks due to COVID-19.

At Maison Herron in Dorval, Que., 31 seniors have died in the past month.

Provincial governments have moved to shore up protections for seniors in long-term care homes by limiting visitors, providing staff with personal protective equipment and preventing employees from working at multiple homes.

Many of these actions came too late or were ineffective, Gillis said.

Gillis said long-term care residents should have been tested for COVID-19 long before outbreaks were declared at their homes. On top of that, homes should be required to provide one bedroom per person, rather than allowing several residents to share a room.

“We need that in order to stop even the flu, never mind the disaster that is COVID-19,” said Gillis.

For now, Gillis said, all governments should focus on saving the lives of older people especially vulnerable to the virus.

When the pandemic slows down, Gillis said, attention should turn to how to improve the care system so that seniors are better protected in the future.

“There needs to be a much longer think about the entire system and how the system works,” said Gillis. “We really need to make sure that we have really meaningful changes that respect the human rights of all people.”

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