After months of not being able to visit her 90-year-old mother, Leesa Streifler was thrilled when the province recently announced family members could meet with residents of personal care homes, albeit with restrictions.

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After months of not being able to visit her 90-year-old mother, Leesa Streifler was thrilled when the province recently announced family members could meet with residents of personal care homes, albeit with restrictions.

Streifler’s joy was short-lived. Her time would be restricted to two short visits per week, because the province hasn’t given the facility her mother resides in (Simkin Centre in Winnipeg) or others extra funding needed to hire staff to facilitate such visits at a time when many regular staff members are on summer vacation, she said.

Two organizations which represent long-term care homes — Manitoba Association of Residential & Community Care Homes for the Elderly and Long Term & Continuing Care Association of Manitoba — are calling for increased funding for a list of needs, including higher levels of staffing and needed repairs and renovations.

"It is a sad reality that personal care homes in this province are underfunded and struggling with insufficient numbers of staff," Streifler said. "With the extra cost to supply (personal protective equipment) to staff and supervising (COVID-19) pandemic protocols for visits, family visits have added to the already overburdened personal care homes.

"The real victims in this situation are the elderly, who have been stressed, confused and isolated resulting in declining physical and emotional health," she said.

"The pandemic has revealed the grave situation of personal care homes in this country and Manitoba’s lack of support is cold-hearted and irresponsible."

MARCHE executive director Julie Turenne-Maynard said Monday the problems have been years in the making.

"Many personal care homes — including all of those in Winnipeg — have not seen any funding increase for basic operations in more than 10 years," Turenne-Maynard said.

"During that same time, dietary expenses at MARCHE homes increased by 30 per cent and the cost of incontinent supplies increased 50 per cent. Funding of these items had to come at the expense of other departments."

Turenne-Maynard said the 29 private, non-profit homes her group represents have so many long put off renovations and upgrades required they need an average of $6 million apiece.

"A lot of our homes are 30, 40 and even 50 years old, and there has been a funding freeze for over 25 years for what government puts out for renovations," she said.

"The silver lining of COVID is it has really brought long-term care to the forefront across Canada... If provinces like Alberta, Ontario and British Columbia have seen base funding increase by the rate of inflation annually, why don’t we?"

In a statement, Health Minister Cameron Friesen said the Manitoba government recently announced "an investment of $280 million to accelerate safety and capital upgrades to personal care homes across the province."

"These upgrades build on the government’s commitment to ensure health-care facilities are in line with revised Manitoba fire code requirements, including provision of fire suppression systems and increased fire separation enhancements... We find it disappointing that MARCHE would downplay the significance of such an important investment."

As for visits, Friesen said because of the low rates of COVID-19 in Manitoba, "Visits between residents and their loved ones can and should be accommodated. We are calling on long-term care operators and their associations to work effectively with the regional health authorities and families to do everything possible to increase visits at this time."

However, LTCAM executive director Jan Legeros, whose group represents one-third of the personal care beds in the province, says personal care homes have not only seen years of funding freezes, no funding for increased supplies for PPE, and no annual inflationary operational increases, but it has become even worse.

"The past two years, direct funding reductions were implemented along with other regional ‘cost savings measures’ which, many times directly and negatively impacted our members," Legeros said.

"The costs related to COVID-19 are unparalleled and are mounting daily... Help us keep our Manitoba seniors in care safe."

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.

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