New long-term care standards released today will only be useful if the Liberal government keeps its promise to give them the force of law, according to the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents 90,000 workers in long-term care. 

“Voluntary standards did not protect the 17,000 residents of long-term care homes who have died so far because of COVID-19. Canadians want better protections for seniors,” said Candace Rennick, CUPE’s National Secretary-Treasurer. “This country needs standards that are backed by the force of law. People need to know that their loved ones will spend their last days living with dignity and respect. They need to know that there will be penalties and consequences for long-term care service providers that don’t follow the rules.” 

The new Health Standards Organization (HSO) standards offer improvements, but they do not go far enough. Obviously missing is what COVID demonstrated to be one of the most important factors in the quality of long-term care: the requirement that it be public and not-for-profit. Death rates in for-profit homes were almost twice as high as in not-for profit and municipal facilities. There is no room for profiteering in long-term care. 

The standards acknowledge that evidence shows LTC residents require a minimum of 4.1 hours of direct care per day, but stop short of requiring this minimum number of hours. The standards calls on homes to develop a staffing plan that includes a minimum threshold of workers required to provide adequate care, but they do not offer a concrete call for higher levels of staffing. CUPE has argued that a minimum of 4.1 hours of direct care must be explicitly spelled out in the standards, and that a minimum of 70% of jobs in LTC should be permanent, full-time. Solidifying these two standards would dramatically improve the working and caring conditions in facilities. 

Regardless of any improvements, it’s the voluntary nature of the standards that makes them little more than words on paper. If there were strong standards that were mandatory and well-funded, Canadians could expect to see real changes in long-term care. In the absence of that, it is difficult to see a clear path to better care. Without national legislation, Canada is left with the current patchwork of practices, with different provinces having different standards and requirements, that failed so tragically during the pandemic.  

“Justin Trudeau must keep his promise to protect vulnerable seniors,” said Mark Hancock, CUPE’s National President. “The government needs to step up and do what’s right. Long-term care needs to be fully integrated into our public health care system. It should be brought into the Canada Health Act, making it a health care service that is publicly funded and delivered, and accessible to all Canadians.”