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Canada needs a dementia care strategy and public residential care is an important part of that strategy

The numbers are daunting. Across Canada there are fewer places for people, mostly frail seniors, who need residential care. Yet the number of people being cared for in private for-profit facilities is rising dramatically. The care needs of residents in long-term care are much more complex than even five years ago with high rates of dementia and the vast majority requiring assistance with mobility, eating and daily living activities.

The Alzheimer Society of Canada estimates that even with a significant increase in residential long-term care beds from now to 2028, there will be a shortfall of 86, 469 spaces. The unmet need could climb by over 155,000 places by 2038.

The plight of people living with dementia, and those who provide informal care for them, is getting some attention. The Alzheimer Society of Canada has released an important study this year call Rising Tide: The Impact of Dementia on Canadian Society and the Globe and Mail recently featured a series on dementia calling for a national dementia care strategy.

CUPE agrees that significantly more resources must be directed toward building a robust continuum of care that supports people living with dementia, so they can remain in their homes as long as possible.  However, there is widespread agreement among experts that many people living with dementia will require residential care at some point during their illness and that more residential care beds will be needed.

Residential care is a fundamental part of the strategy for those who will eventually develop more complex care needs, and that care must be provided as part of the public health care system. Studies show that private for profit facilities tend to provide fewer hours of care per resident. Fewer hours of care means that residents are at a greater risk of developing avoidable health problems due to dehydration, lack of nutrition, falls or pressure ulcers.

However, across Canada more and more private for-profit corporations are receiving public funding from health authorities to deliver residential care.

We need more publicly built and operated residential care facilities that are properly funded and staffed. We need sufficient numbers of care providers to ensure that residents receive high quality care.

Government must establish minimum staffing levels to ensure quality care and implement measures guaranteeing that high standards of care will be monitored and enforced.

The staff that provides care must be supported through ongoing education programs to ensure they have the tools they need to provide quality care to the growing number of residents who have increasingly complex care needs.

People living with dementia are among our most vulnerable citizens. They should be cared for on the basis of their needs, not as a source of private for-profit corporations.

CUPE represents over 190,000 people working in health care, 67,000 of whom work in residential long-term care providing support and care to vulnerable residents with complex care needs.