CUPE National President Mark Hancock wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this week, calling on him to fix Canada’s broken long-term care system now.

CUPE represents 65,000 workers in long-term care across Canada, and Hancock has pledged to fight to improve their working conditions and the living conditions of care home residents.

In the coming weeks, CUPE National will launch a Canada-wide campaign to mobilize Canadians and put pressure on elected representatives to fix long-term care and give residents and workers alike the security and dignity they deserve.

Read the full letter below:

Dear Prime Minister,

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) represents 700,000 workers across the country in a wide variety of sectors. 65,000 of our members work in long-term care homes across Canada, including care aides, licensed/registered practical nurses, and dietary, cleaning, and clerical staff. On behalf of all CUPE members, but especially those working in the sector, I’m writing to share our deep concern with the situation in Canada’s long-term care homes, and to call on your government to lead the way by making the systemic changes that are desperately needed.

The COVID-19 pandemic is disproportionately affecting seniors living in long-term care homes across the country. The statistics are horrifying. Four out of five COVID-19-related deaths in Canada have either been residents or staff of a long-term care home. Our country has the highest proportion of deaths in long-term care settings in the world. The impacts on residents, workers, family members, and loved ones are devastating.

COVID-19 did not create the crisis unfolding in long-term care – it’s laying bare the problems that have persisted across the sector for years. Decades of underfunding, understaffing, poor working conditions, high levels of violence, and a focus on profits over quality care have eroded Canada’s system of long-term care to the breaking point, leaving us tragically unprepared to protect the lives of our most vulnerable.

Immediate attention must be devoted to addressing the following problems:

  • Our long-term care system is regulated by a patchwork of provincial and territorial legislation and regulations. The delivery of care is iniquitous. Where in the country a resident lives affects the type and amount of care they receive, and how much they pay for it.
  • Research shows that between 4.1 and 4.9 hours of directly worked hands-on care are required per resident each day to prevent a deterioration in a resident’s health, and to ensure quality care that is timely and consistent. No province or territory currently meets this minimum standard. When staffing levels are inadequate, workers do not have sufficient time to perform necessary tasks, and quality of care suffers.
  • Care aides perform upwards of 90% of direct care to residents. Their work is highly skilled, very heavy, and demanding. They also experience high levels of workplace injury and violence, yet they are low paid and many do not receive benefits.
  • Two decades of research has shown that for-profit home ownership and the contracting out of a home’s laundry, food, and cleaning services results in lower quality and levels of care, lower staffing levels, more verified complaints, more transfers to hospitals, and higher rates of pressure ulcers and morbidity.
  • Because they’re low paid, staff must often work multiple jobs to pay the bills. As workers move from job to job, they have unwittingly spread the virus between facilities.
  • Research shows Canada will need an additional 199,000 long-term care beds by 2035. The wait list in Ontario already has almost 35,000 people on it. Across all provinces and territories, many seniors are waiting in-hospital for a long-term care bed, pushing hospitals well over capacity and exacerbating the problem of “hallway medicine” present in many acute care settings.

The pandemic has shown we need to recreate our system of long-term care to transform facilities into places that Canadians want to work, and places that provide the quality of care we want for our loved ones, and for ourselves as we age.

It’s time for your government to show leadership by taking the following actions to fix the problems in long-term care now:

  • Bring long-term care fully into the public health care system and regulate it under the Canada Health Act.
  • Provide dedicated and adequate funding to the provinces and territories for long-term care through the Canada Health Transfer.
  • Implement and enforce evidence-based national standards of care, including staffing levels, and tie the standards to funding.
  • Eliminate the for-profit ownership of homes and the contracting out of facility services.
  • Increase and standardize the wages of workers to reflect the value of their work and role in providing an essential health care service. Strengthen workers’ benefits, including adequate paid sick days.
  • Eliminate precarity across the sector through the creation of full time, regular jobs for workers who want them.
  • Use public funds to build and operate more publicly operated long-term care homes.

As your government moves towards recovering from and rebuilding after the COVID-19 pandemic, I ask that you place a high priority on reforming our system of long-term care. We cannot and must not go back to the way things were. Current and future generations of seniors, persons with disabilities, and thousands of long-term care workers across Canada are counting on you.