The federal government is looking for public input on a new legislation to improve safety in long-term care following the devastation wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Liberals promised during the 2021 election campaign to table a Safe Long-Term Care Act, after widespread COVID-19 outbreaks drew attention to the struggle of many homes to provide basic care to residents.
The proposed law is also a condition of the supply-and-confidence deal with the NDP, in which New Democrats agreed to support the Liberals on key House of Commons votes until 2025 in exchange for movement on shared priorities.
The office of Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos would not say when the government plans to table the legislation, but it could be as early as this fall.
The NDP said the Liberals have been slow to act. Health critic Don Davies said for-profit care homes had among the worst outcomes in the country.
“This is because they were more concerned with profit margins than the quality-of-care seniors received or the working conditions of their employees,” Davies said in a written statement.
“Worse, these deplorable conditions were long-standing and well-known even before COVID.”
Earlier this year, two panels of experts in the field of long-term care released new standards for improving health, safety and infection prevention in care homes.
The Health Standards Organization and CSA Group developed the standards, which focus on resident-centred care, improvements to workplace conditions, and improved data gathering and accountability when it comes to the quality and safety of homes.
It’s not clear to what extent those standards will form the basis of the new legislation, or whether they will be enforced across the country.
The legislation could at least “reflect” the new standards, a government discussion paper indicates.
The paper, intended to inform the public consultation, says the new act could “encourage” provinces and territories to adopt the standards.
Like health care, long-term care is squarely in the jurisdiction of provinces and territories. That leaves a much more limited role for the federal government to shape the rules for long-term care homes, aside from convening provinces for national discussions and offering funds for specific initiatives.
In the 2021 budget the government announced it would share $3 billion with provinces and territories to improve conditions in long-term care.
In the most recent budget the government set aside $1.7 billion over five years for hourly wage increases for personal support workers, who provide the majority of bedside care in most homes.
The coming law could include a federal framework and plan for long-term care, as well as improved data collection.
For example, the government has asked for feedback on what kind of information should be included in a national public report on long-term care.
The Health Department has launched an online questionnaire to collect feedback from long-term care residents, their families and members of the public over the next two months.
Department officials will also host roundtables with experts, and work with provinces and territories.
“All seniors deserve to live in dignity, regardless of where they live, and also expect long-term care to be safe, if it is needed,” Duclos said in a statement.
“I encourage all Canadians to participate and share their thoughts during the consultation period.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 21, 2023.