Parliament Video: Jenny in the House: Seniors deserve better. Families and workers deserve better. Take profit out of long-term care.

On March 22 2021 Jenny seconded and gave a speech in support of the following NDP motion:

Jenny Kwan (NDP) Vancouver East, BC

"Madam Speaker, I am honoured to second this motion and rise to speak in support of it.

As we heard from the leader of the NDP, the motion basically calls for the federal government to act now to take profit out of long-term care, put people before profit and say that we, as a society, value the lives of seniors more than money.

Seniors in long-term care facilities have been especially hard hit by the pandemic. In the first wave of the pandemic, more than 80% of all COVID-19 deaths in the country were reported in long-term care facilities and retirement homes. That means one in five of the total COVID cases in Canada was among long-term care residents.

Of course, COVID-19 also affected the workers in those facilities. In Canada, more than 9,600 staff in long-term care facilities were infected with COVID-19, representing more than 10% of the total cases.

The pandemic has exposed severe cracks in our system, and some of the elderly and most vulnerable people paid the ultimate price for that. Across the country, more than a quarter of Canada's long-term care homes are for-profit. We have learned that for-profit care homes were more likely to see extensive COVID-19 outbreaks, and more deaths, than non-profit facilities.

Things got so bad in Ontario that the military and the Red Cross had to be called in to help care for seniors. How did things get so bad? In the for-profit care homes, care aides and personal support workers are underpaid and are often part-time or casual workers, which means they often have to work at multiple job sites to make ends meet. This can be deadly in the face of a pandemic, when social distancing is an essential health measure. To be clear, the reason they are underpaid is so the company can have a larger profit margin. They are part-time or casual workers, which also means they are not paid benefits or sick leave. In addition, long-term care homes often subcontract out services such as laundry, cleaning and cooking, and it is also very likely that subcontracted staff do not have paid sick leave. Without paid sick leave, workers may be compelled to go to work even if they are feeling ill.

All of these conditions contributed to an increased risk of transmission. The outcome was devastating for far too many seniors and their families, as well as the workers. The horror stories we hear in the media of the conditions the seniors were in take one's breath away. It is not supposed to be that way. The seniors in our communities helped build this country. Their retirement years are supposed to be their golden years. They deserve to live in comfort, with dignity and safety, as do people with disabilities. However, because of decades of cuts, underfunding and privatization, our continuing care system is broken.

The bottom line is that Canada has failed to protect long-term care residents and workers throughout this pandemic. We have to ask ourselves how it is possible that seniors in some care homes were abandoned in their beds for weeks on end. Some cried for help for hours before assistance was provided. Some had to be bathed as they had not been bathed for weeks. Can members imagine if those were their mothers or grandmothers? Such horrific stories are not just stories. They are the real experiences of loved ones.

Report after report revealed what we should know instinctively: that profit should never be the bottom line when it comes to continuing care. The evidence is overwhelming. It is undeniable that for-profit homes have seen worse results than other homes, with deadlier COVID outbreaks. However, at the same time, for-profit operators were getting public subsidies and paying out millions in dividends to shareholders while workers were underpaid, with some making minimum wage. Things were so desperate for some of them they had to resort to living in shelters. In fact, there was an outbreak in an Ottawa homeless shelter under exactly such a circumstance. It helps no one if essential front-line health care workers are pushed into homelessness. The colossal failure of the system is Canada's national shame.

Even outside of the pandemic situation, research has shown that homes run on a for-profit basis tend to have lower staffing levels, more verified complaints and more transfers to hospitals, as well as residents with higher rates of both ulcers and morbidity. We as parliamentarians have the power to do something about this. We must act now to prevent a repeat of this in the future. We must transition the for-profit model in long-term care to a non-profit model.

The NDP members want to see an end to for-profit long-term care by 2030. That is why we are calling for a national task force to devise a plan to get the job done. We must also set national standards. Let us work collaboratively with provincial, territorial leaders, experts and workers alike to set national standards for long-term care and continuing care that would include accountability mechanisms. Without national standards, the federal government is leaving the door wide open for the for-profit companies to cut corners and put profit first at the expense our loved ones. That cannot be allowed to continue.

Those standards should be tied to $5 billion in federal funding and the principles in Canada's Health Care Act. We can put in place a seniors care guarantee. Seniors deserve to know that they will have safe, dignified care both at home and in care homes available to them as they age. Families deserve to know that their loved ones will have the care they deserve, with inspections and appropriate levels of care and staffing ratios.

Workers deserve to know that their wages will reflect the value of their work and allow them to live in dignity without having to work multiple jobs or end up in a shelter because they cannot afford housing. They deserve to know that the government has their back and that they will have access to protective equipment and safe working conditions.

The federal government can show leadership by transforming Revera from a for-profit long-term care chain owned by a crown pension fund into a publicly managed entity. Public ownership of long-term care facilities would allow workers to work full-time at one home at competitive union rates, which would address understaffing and prevent the transmission of illness. The benchmark for quality long-term care is 4.1 hours of hands-on care per resident per day. However, no province or territory currently meets this standard of care.

Long-term care homes are chronically understaffed across Canada. Nurses and personal support workers at these facilities are often paid low wages, saddled with overwhelming workloads and are subjected to high levels of stress, burnout and even violence. Precarious and part-time employment often forces these health care workers to move between facilities to earn a living.

Waitlists for long-term care can have lengthy backlogs because the care facilities are not keeping pace with Canada’s aging population. This shortage leads to overcrowding at long-term care facilities and overuse of the hospital system by those without access to appropriate care.

There is a lack of accountability for long-term care facility operators due to lax enforcement of standards and regulations. For example, a recent CBC investigation revealed that 85% of long-term care homes in Ontario have routinely violated health care standards for decades with near total impunity.

We have the power within us to end this for this generation and beyond. Seniors deserve better. Families deserve better. Workers deserve better. Let us never forget these words from Canada's Chief Public Health Officer:

I think the tragedy and the massive lesson learned for everyone in Canada is that we were at every level, not able to protect our seniors, particularly those in long-term care homes. Even worse is that in that second wave, as we warned of the resurgence, there was a repeat of the huge impact on that population.

For those who want to say that we cannot do it because of jurisdictional issues, I will quote Marcy Cohen, research associate for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, who said that “The setting of clear standards in health care as a condition of federal funding is not an attack on provincial jurisdiction—it is the only path”—"

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