Canadian coalition launches drive to put long-term care reform front-and-centre in federal election

Joint Media Release
Thursday, September 2, 2021 - 09:00

Citing problems in long-term care exacerbated by COVID-19, a broad coalition of unions and other community stakeholders is urging party leaders to put an urgently-needed overhaul of long-term care at the top of their priorities. 

Organizations involved in this coalition include the Canadian Health Coalition, Friends of Medicare, UNI Global Union as well as several unions, including SEIU, UFCW, Unifor, USW, CUPE Ontario, CFNU, BCGEU, and ONA. Many unions are affiliates of UNI Global Union, a federation of unions and advocate for increase care quality around the world.

They are kicking off this drive with an open letter to all federal party leaders calling for new legislation setting federal long-term care (LTC) standards linked to government funding. 

“Each wave of the virus has hit us incredibly hard and taken so much—our colleagues, our residents, our loved ones,” said Tara Kraehling, PSW, Southbridge Roseview Manor. “To rebuild our resiliency as long-term care workers and to repair a care system on the brink, we need change now. This letter is a distress signal to federal leaders telling them Canada deserves real solutions.” 

Canada had extremely high rates of COVID-related deaths in long-term care, including nursing homes and assisted living facilities. The country’s infection totals in LTC have been up to ten times higher than in other commonwealth nations, and the problem has been particularly acute in for-profit long-term care homes. For profit long-term care centers have seen deaths rates as high as 8.6 deaths per 100 beds, more than twice the overall industry average of 3.7. 

Even before the pandemic, the long-term care sector was under strain. Unless the system is fixed, the coalition of care advocates write, the growing needs of people living in Canada coupled with a potential expansion of the for-profit LTC sector would decrease the oversight and accountability while also driving working and care standards down.

“Creating sustainable change is an immense challenge, but we believe that there is no alternative but to act now. Maintaining the status quo would be negligent and harmful to Canadians,” the letter says. The group is pushing for policies including:

  • Increased federal funding conditional on meeting national long-term care standards; 
  • Phasing out the for-profit long-term care system in Canada; 
  • Improved working conditions, including enhanced training, livable wages and paid sick leave; 
  • Improved living conditions, such as end the use of multi-bed rooms; 
  • Adequate staffing levels; 
  • Improved health and safety measures; 
  • Measures to address staff shortages, retention, and attracting new workers to the industry. 

“Too many people in Canada have died, and thousands of families have been left in fear as their family members continue to be live in deplorable conditions,” said Pauline Worsfold, RN, Chairperson of the Canadian Health Coalition. “The federal government needs to take action.”

“The human toll of the pandemic may never be fully known, but it is clear that we must take immediate steps to mitigate COVID’s impact.  We have to make sure that we don’t make the same mistakes in a future pandemic. Life must be at the centre of care, and these standards would put health and wellbeing at long-term care’s core.” Said Christy Hoffman, UNI Global Union’s General Secretary. 

Letter here. Full list of signatories:

  • Jerry Dias, Unifor National President 
  • Fred Hahn, President CUPE Ontario 
  • Paul Finch, Treasurer, B.C. General Employees’ Union 
  • Sandra Azocar, Executive Director, Friends of Medicare 
  • Vicki McKenna, President, Ontario Nurses’, Association 
  • Ken Neumann, National Director for Canada, United Steelworkers 
  • Dave Baraniuk, President & Misty Lafond, 2nd Vice President/Business Agent, United Steelworkers Local 1-207 
  • Pauline Worsfold, RN, Chairperson, Canadian Health Coalition 
  • Edith MacHattie and Barb Nederpel, Steering Committee Co-chairs, BC Health Coalition 
  • Linda Silas, President, Canadian Federation of Nurses 
  • Sharleen Stewart, President, SEIU Healthcare 
  • Adrian Durtschi, Head of UNI Care, UNI Global Union 
  • Christina Warner, Interim Co-Executive Director 
  • Paul Meinema, National President, UFCW Canada 
  • Shawn Haggerty, President UFCW Locals 175 & 633 
  • Dr. Melanie Bechard, Chair, Canadian Doctors for Medicare 
  • Mary Boyd, PEI Health Coalition 
  • Chris Parsons, Provincial coordinator, Nova Scotia Health Coalition