Governments need to step up to address ‘fear and confusion’ in Manitoba’s care homes during pandemic

By | September 26, 2020

Time and again, an aging person will vow to live on their own, whatever the circumstances, rather than go to “one of those places” — a long-term care (LTC) facility.

They have digested the stories and read the statistics. While it’s bad enough to contemplate entering a LTC facility at the best of times, these are not the best of times — clearly. 

Fear and confusion dominate the scenarios, and as a Manitoban who is old enough to be eligible for those seniors discounts that stores offer, I understand. 

As the novel coronavirus dominated the conversations of Canadians this spring, older people in Manitoba and throughout the country were presented with the searing, heartbreaking media reports of what military members found when they entered nursing homes. They were there to help overwhelmed staff cope with the needs of residents in long-term-care centres struggling with the deadly virus. 

Horrific reports detailed older people being drugged, bullied and left for days in soiled bedding. That was in Ontario.

Canadian Armed Forces personnel arrive at the Villa Val des Arbes seniors residence in Laval, Que., on April 20. Reports about what soldiers deployed found in care homes were ‘heartbreaking,’ says Gloria Taylor. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

More recently, here in Manitoba, LTC home COVID-19 cases and deaths have escalated. 

And, as the federal throne speech was read, it was difficult, if not downright impossible, to imagine that residents of Manitoba’s facilities would somehow inexplicably escape the misery that the pandemic has inflicted on thousands across Canada.  

It is a bad time for those who are grappling with the realization that they or a family member may really need the kind of care that a nursing home can provide. 

Family members may no longer be able to care for an elderly person whose needs have increased because of worsening health, or the needs are beyond what the province’s home-care service can reasonably provide. 

These are painful crossroads. But good luck in convincing them to go!

Emotions surge; more anger than anything. 

Why were the facilities permitted to get to the stage where so many were understaffed and others (they allege) under resourced? Why have the elderly sunk to a position in our society where they are so disrespected? Are conditions in Manitoba facilities any better than those in other provinces? 

Many people knew about the shortcomings well before COVID-19. Why did they not come forward? Or did they, and no one listened? 

Or is life so full of challenges now, that our officials and governments didn’t want to spend too much time trying to understand what was happening, because of all the other challenges of our times? 

One way to help the elderly is to take measures that help everyone. 

End provincial-federal ‘warfare’

While the number of cases (“cases” being flesh-and-blood people) in Manitoba continues to rise, the Manitoba government has yet to mandate more stringent requirements for masks. (This seems like a reasonable ask that may — may — just help.)

Another is to stop the interminable, internecine warfare between the provinces and federal government. The throne speech included a plan for the federal government to work with the provinces to develop cross-country standards for nursing homes. 

Full disclosure: I am not a member of the Liberal Party, but in my opinion, it’s a good plan at a time when laws clearly need to be enacted to protect the residents across the country. 

Anyone up for a street march to the Leg? Scooters, walkers and canes welcome.– Gloria Taylor

Yes, that does mean violators should face criminal charges. It seems to me that an investment arm of the federal government that can invest Canadians’ pension monies in publicly traded LTC facilities should have the right to insist on safe standards across the country. 

Is that level of co-operation going to happen? 

No sooner had the speech been read than the backlash began. To paraphrase: “No so-and-so federal government is going to dictate to the provinces what they must do regarding health care.”

Not that the provinces have done a stellar job in regulating the nursing homes to date. 

Manitoba, with 127 licensed personal care homes, just this spring enacted a new public health order limiting staff to working at only one LTC home. 

But what about the staff who say they need to work for two different facilities in order to earn a living? Might be a good idea just to pay them more. 

Seniors need to speak up

The pandemic is not just about nursing homes for people who are aging. The virus has also stolen dreams. 

It is sad to think that young people today will struggle with problems such as worldwide infections, on top of numerous environmental challenges and other unprecedented issues. They deserve to have good lives. 

As for me, I would like to see seniors more vocal on important issues. 

Anyone up for a street march to the Leg? Scooters, walkers and canes welcome. 


This column is part of  CBC’s Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor’s blog and our FAQ.

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