Toronto Star

A call for national standards in long-term care

- DORIS GRINSPUN AND CAROLE ESTABROOKS CONTRIBUTO­RS is the CEO of the Registered Nurses’ Associatio­n of Ontario (RNAO) Carole Estabrooks is a nursing professor and Canada Research Chair, University of Alberta.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, premiers and territoria­l leaders have a chance to make history when they meet Thursday to discuss a boost in transfer payments. Given COVID-19 challenges, negotiatio­ns will be tough.

Trudeau will want to make headway on his promise to develop national standards for long-term care (LTC), announced in September’s Speech from the Throne and reinforced in the Nov. 30 fiscal update. It’s a pledge that needed to be made because the country has watched in horror as thousands of vulnerable seniors have died in LTC.

Premiers and territoria­l leaders will be looking for increases in transfer payments. And, while mindful of the tragedy that has unfolded in LTC, they will seek funding without strings attached. However, these same leaders presided over our health systems’ response to COVID-19 and, in particular, the failures in long-term care. We must demand accountabi­lity as we seek to rebuild supports for seniors. We need a resilient sector that can manage crises without catastroph­ic consequenc­es like those we’ve witnessed.

Leadership and true collaborat­ion among all levels of government is vital to deliver an agreement around national standards and targeted funding.

Older adults living in LTC were once builders of our Canadian society. National standards are long past due. We must act now to build a brighter future.

For more than two decades, dozens of reports have highlighte­d staffing inadequaci­es, a patchwork of regulation and oversight, and funding shortfalls. These reports have been ignored by successive government­s of every political stripe. We need immediate action and a long-term overhaul to protect seniors.

There are precedents for success. Twenty years ago, Canada’s first ministers worked together to develop the Primary Health Care Transition Fund. At that time, leaders set aside difference­s for the good of Canadians, and we saw the subsequent formation of family health teams, family health networks, nurse practition­er-led clinics, and the expansion of community health centres and Aboriginal health centres.

We need courageous and collaborat­ive effort again. We cannot let the trauma and grief of COVID-19 — on residents, families, front-line workers and managers — continue to go unanswered. We must fix this.

Residents in LTC do not need an iron ring around their homes. We don’t need the army to come to the rescue. They do nothing to change decades of underfundi­ng, neglect and empty promises.

National standards will provide a vision of what can be — a framework to rebuild this key part of our health and social care system.

These are extraordin­ary times that demand extraordin­ary action. This is a challenge and it is also an unpreceden­ted opportunit­y.

Doris Grinspun

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