“Most of us don’t realize that long-term care (LTC) facilities are essentially a person’s final home. People move to these facilities because they’re in their last months or years of life.
They need better health care because they have incurable illnesses such as dementia, frailty, renal failure and cardiac failure which have led to functional, medical and physical decline. Early palliative care is so important in LTC because it’s not just about end of life care. Palliative care is an approach to care that should be considered at admission to ensure that each person can have the best quality of life possible.
COVID-19 is a national tragedy for people living in LTC, with a large increase in suffering and death among its residents. For a sector of the health system that has been chronically understaffed and under-resourced, the virus has now tipped the balance in a truly heartbreaking way.
An overhaul is needed of Canada’s LTC system. Hands-on care for residents needs to increase. We need to increase pay and support for health workers in LTC, most of whom are racialized women. Buildings need to be updated to improve resident privacy and autonomy. And care needs to be specialized to maintain function and improve quality of life.
We also need to recognize and support family caregivers as essential partners in care. There’s often a misconception that once a person gets into LTC, the family’s job is done. But nothing could be further from the truth.
Family caregivers are often very involved in providing hands-on care – for example, at meal time bringing their loved one’s favourite food and helping to feed them. Importantly, they also participate in shared medical decision making to ensure any treatment matches the residents’ values, beliefs, and expectations.
Like many other advocates, I implore politicians and health authorities to put words into action and institute changes to LTC that have been needed for many years. Our LTC residents are our families, friends, and neighbours and they deserve the best care possible in their last home.”
This interview was conducted in May 2020.