Manitoba in position to embrace long-term care standard: researcher
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Adopting new, national standards for long-term care wouldn’t be a “huge leap” for Manitoba care home operators, experts in seniors care say, as the Progressive Conservative government considers regulatory changes.
On Tuesday, the Health Standards Organization published the new “National Long-Term Care Services Standard,” which was commissioned by the federal government, following the devastation wrought by COVID-19 on personal care homes across Canada.
The voluntary standard is more comprehensive than earlier versions and focuses on governance, accountability, resident care and rights, and appropriate and adequate staffing levels, said Dr. Samir Sinha, chairman of the technical committee tasked with developing the standard.
“We’ve had lots of feedback from Manitobans that this is the care that they want to see in their homes,” said Sinha, a Winnipegger living in Toronto and the health policy research director with the National Institute on Ageing.
“Where Manitoba has made demonstrable progress in its commitments towards long-term care in the past two years, there’s more that it could do to be fully aligned with these standards as well.”
The COVID-19 pandemic exposed significant sector vulnerabilities, Sinha said, pointing to devastating outbreaks of the virus at Parkview Place and Maples in Winnipeg in fall 2020.
The province ordered an investigation into the Maples outbreak — which killed 56 residents and infected 231 people — and a subsequent report authored by investigator Lynn Stevenson provided 17 recommendations, which the Tories committed to implementing.
Progress on Stevenson’s recommendations means Manitoba is “much more closely aligned with where these current standards are at,” Sinha said Tuesday, adding it is also in a better position relative to most other provinces.
“But I would argue they could probably invest more in their staffing and also look at how do they mandate that every single home in Manitoba is participating in accreditation against the standard.”
Manitoba should increase staffing to achieve 4.1 hours of direct care per day, which is the national standard, Sinha said. Mandating personal care homes achieve accreditation against the standard, and report results publicly, is also a strong accountability measure, he added.
Governments may also consider using the standard as a baseline for inspections, enforcement, licensing and other regulatory measures, Sinha said.
“There really is an opportunity for Manitoba to look closely at this.”
Seniors and Long-Term Care Minister Scott Johnston was attending a funeral Tuesday, and was not available for an interview, according to his press secretary. Instead, a spokesman for the minister sent a statement in response to questions from the Free Press.
The Manitoba government intends to boost long-term care spending to increase hours of care per day to 4.1 from 3.6, within a six-year period, the spokesman said.
In June, Johnston announced $16 million to recruit and hire 350 health-care aides and 72 nurses for personal care homes. The additional staff was expected to increase ratios to 3.8 hours of resident care per day.
However, the spokesman said the current staffing ratio is still at 3.6. “We are proceeding to a ratio of 3.8 based on the funding we just put through.”
The government is also updating its personal care home standards, as recommended in the Stevenson report. The HSO’s national standard and the CSA Group’s long-term care standards, released in December, are being considered as part of the process, the spokesman said.
“Recommendation 16 of the Stevenson report involves the modernization of current personal care home standards and will require regulatory change,” the spokesman said.
Joyce Kristjansson, board chair for the Manitoba Association of Residential and Community Care Homes for the Elderly, said the province should seriously consider adopting both sets of standards.
“Residents, families and staff would feel respected, valued and listened to,” she said.
However, the retired care home manager who sat on the HSO technical committee stopped short of recommending mandates for long-term care operators. Most operators will follow the standard, to some degree, as it will be the basis for Accreditation Canada, she noted.
“We have a tradition in Manitoba of licensing, of inspecting, of having homes, so I expect that’s going to continue,” she said, adding operators will see the standards as a positive development. “It’s things that they try and endeavour to do on a daily basis — not always successfully — but I don’t think that it’s a huge leap for most operators.”
Kristjansson said the province needs to keep working to increase staffing ratios, but said there simply are not enough people available to fill the positions.
“Right now, it’s about the supply of nurses and health-care aides more than it is about the money to pay them in long-term care,” she said.
Opposition health critic Uzoma Asagwara said there is a role for enhanced oversight for the long-term care sector. The Union Station MLA pointed to past a NDP private members’ bill that called for reporting on direct care hours and calls for a seniors’ advocate.
“In Opposition, we have been proactive on these issues,” Asagwara said. “It is shameful, quite frankly, that the (PC) government has made no progress in these areas and, in fact, have set us back.”
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.