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New proposed long-term care standards call for better staffing, more direct care

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New standards for long-term care homes are being rolled out across Canada in an attempt to avoid a repeat of the tragedies that unfolded during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Non-profit group Health Standards Organization created a set of voluntary guidelines, which were released on Tuesday.

During the pandemic, thousands of elderly residents died alone in understaffed care homes, while others lived in homes with substandard conditions and were unable to receive the care needed.

“What we've done is looked at the evidence, met with experts and talk to almost 19,000 people across Canada about long-term care, what it should be, what it is today, and what we need to do to fix it,” said Joyce Kristjansson, the chair of the Manitoba Association of Residential Care Homes for the Elderly, who was involved with the writing of the report.

Kristjansson said five areas were identified as needing reform - improving the care experience, having enough staff, improving communication, safety in the sector and better governance.

One of the recommendations in the report includes at least four hours of direct care a day for residents. Kristjansson said Manitoba currently provides 3.2 hours of direct care on average, below its target of 3.7 hours.

She said the increased care would make a huge difference for people.

“When I met and talked with residents across the country as part of this process, what I heard from them was they missed having somebody to take that extra five minutes to chat. They missed having someone care about them, having somebody take the time beyond moving forward,” she said. “I remember one resident saying to me, ‘Mealtimes are so hard. I'd like to sit and chat, but I know that the staff are super busy trying to feed people who can't feed themselves. They don't have time to even say something nice to me other than in passing when they're dropping off my food.’”

Eddie Calisto-Tavares, an advocate for seniors’ care in Manitoba, lost her father in a COVID-19 outbreak at the Maples Personal Care Home.

She says a culture change is needed inside long-term care homes.

“The only way they are going to be implemented across the border is if there's accountability,” she said. “One of the things that families voice- which I'm sort of leading - is that we need a place where families can go, when the suggestion is an independent seniors advocate with an independent communication, a person or people that are accountable to that office to make sure that those standards are being implemented, and also problem solve when they're not too big.”

Calisto-Tavares added basic standards, like cleaning and infection protection, should have been there all along.

“That’s why we had the disaster we had during the pandemic, because they were not being implemented.”

In a prepared statement from the province to CTV News Winnipeg, the government said it is "committed to the development of a new seniors strategy, which will be released in the coming weeks.

"Our government engaged in consultations with Manitobans including seniors, caregivers, stakeholders and families of seniors to inform short- and long-term plans for Manitoba seniors," a spokesperson said.

The government said it accepted the findings and recommendations in the Stevenson Report and noted the HSO and CSA Group's Long-Term Care Standards are being considered for Manitoba's "modernization efforts" of care home standards.

The full report can be viewed here.

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