The Canadian Armed Forces report on long-term care homes struck with COVID-19 came as a shock to many Canadians. The conditions found by soldiers who volunteered to help care for residents are beyond disturbing.
We are indebted to the soldiers who put their own lives at risk to care for our seniors, and to the military officials who made their frank and unvarnished report public.
We also owe a debt to the staff who have been showing up for work, day after day despite the often-inadequate personal protection equipment provided to them, the increased workload, and the danger of getting sick themselves.
And most importantly, we owe it to the residents of long-term care homes and to their families to make sure that this crisis brings about constructive changes in dementia and seniors care.
The disastrous effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have exposed critical gaps and weaknesses in the long-term care system. Yet, this is a crisis that has been brewing for years – a crisis that was both predictable and preventable.
Deaths in long-term care account for nearly 85 per cent of all COVID-19 deaths across Canada. Most long-term care residents are over 80 years old and over two-thirds of them have dementia, most of whom are women. With these stark figures, there is unprecedented support for reforming the long-term care system.
The Alzheimer Society has long called for fundamental changes to dementia care – not just in long-term care but across the entire healthcare system. And there is no shortage of recommendations on how to improve care for this vulnerable population.
A year ago, in June 2019, the Federal Government launched A Dementia Strategy for Canada: Together We Aspire. The strategy respects jurisdictional responsibility for healthcare planning and delivery and is supported by expert committees to guide its development and implementation, including the Ministerial Advisory Board on Dementia, a federal, provincial, and territorial coordinating committee on dementia, and a “whole-of-government” Inter-Departmental Committee on Dementia.
The national dementia strategy is an opportunity to tackle one of the fastest-growing diseases of our time. More than half a million Canadians are living with dementia today. With the aging of the baby boom generation, that number is expected to nearly double by the end of the decade.
Putting off changes to dementia care is not an option. We must act now on all fronts to fix the underlying problems that have been so brutally revealed by the COVID-19 crisis.
As we begin the difficult recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is clear federal government accountability is required to
- improve the care and support of Canadians living with dementia, and of their caregivers and families by creating national standards for long-term care and working with the provinces to ensure these are put into practice; and
- heed the urgency exposed by the pandemic and fully fund the national dementia strategy with clear targets, structures, and timelines.
Canadians know that “business as usual” is not an option. The Alzheimer Society of Canada is committed to pressing for change and to working with the federal government and other stakeholders to deliver the long-term care Canadians deserve.