Long-Term Care Among Top Priorities For C.A.R.P.’s 2021 Advocacy Platform
Fixing long-term care and boosting financial security for older Canadians are the top priorities for C.A.R.P.’s 2021 advocacy platform. Photo: Branislav Novak / EyeEm via Getty Images
Fixing long-term care and boosting financial security for older Canadians are the top priorities for C.A.R.P.’s 2021 advocacy platform.
It’s been a rotten few months, especially if you’re old,” said comedian Mary Walsh, summing up a most tumultuous year during C.A.R.P.’s National Seniors Day online gala in early October.
“It’s better than death,” she joked. “But not by much!” You have to admire Walsh for adding levity to a very dispiriting year.
Coming at us in two waves, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 cut through the older population. By November, Canadians over the age of 60 accounted for 9,408 of 9,759 deaths, or 96 per cent. Our nursing homes, assisted living centres and retirement homes became epicentres
of outbreaks, and they struggled to contain the infection and care for residents even as fatalities hit the headlines.
“These were grandparents, parents and beloved family members, many of whom passed away alone in terrible conditions, separated from their loved ones,” says Bill VanGorder, C.A.R.P.’s chief policy officer. “It was a national tragedy.”
To meet the moment, C.A.R.P. has released its advocacy priorities for the coming year. “What better way to honour those who have died in the pandemic than to assure that those seniors who have lived through it have the care, comfort, support and resources to live peacefully in the days that come,” says VanGorder.
Repairing a Broken System
The Issue: With more than 80 per cent of all COVID-19 deaths linked to long-term care, Canadians “were shocked by the complete inability of the system to protect its elderly residents during the pandemic,” says VanGorder. He notes that historic issues undermining the elder care system – overcrowded wards, lack of staff training in infection prevention and control, poor management and, most importantly, chronic understaffing – must be addressed. Canada lags behind other countries in funding long-term care. According to a study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (comprising 37 member countries that discuss and develop economic and social policy), in 2017 Canada spent 1.3 per cent of its GDP on long-term care, while countries like the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden spent more than three per cent.
The Ask: “Long-term care needs to be completely rebuilt from the ground up, and governments have to realize that large facilities that ‘warehouse’ older adults are not what they deserve,” says VanGorder. C.A.R.P. will also lobby provincial governments to improve staffing levels, provide better infection-control training and personal protective equipment for care workers and begin retrofitting older and outdated facilities.
No Place Like Home
The Issue: One way provincial governments can ease the pressure on overwhelmed long-term care homes is to provide more support to allow people to age at home. Right now, home and community care is an underutilized and poorly funded piece of the health-care puzzle. “In Canada, we spend only about 10 per cent of the long-term care budget on home and community care, with the rest going into building and maintaining expensive
institutions that warehouse seniors,” says VanGorder.
The Ask: Increase funding and support for home care by making it a federal responsibility. “The pandemic has shown that home care and community-based care solutions are critical to resolving the long-term care crisis,” says VanGorder. In 2020, C.A.R.P. will push for more funding of front-line home care, community care, respite care, increasing nursing hours, expanding telehealth-care solutions and providing income tax rebates for family caregivers.
Protecting Your Pocketbook
The Issue: While the government’s September throne speech promised major investments to help youth, women and racialized groups weather unemployment caused by business lockdowns, it didn’t provide any specific programs aimed at securing the financial security of older Canadians. “The pandemic has increased the financial anxiety of many of our members as they see their expenses rise against their fixed incomes,” says VanGorder. As well, the potential for long-term economic disruption could have repercussions on the global stock markets, putting Canadians’ retirement savings at risk.
The Ask: C.A.R.P. will hold the government to its election promises of boosting Old Age Security by 10 per cent (for people 75 and older) and increasing the Canada Pension Plan Survivor Benefit by 25 per cent (for people 65 and older). Other objectives include asking the government to eliminate mandatory RRIF withdrawals (so seniors don’t deplete their nest eggs), legislating better protections for investors and adding safeguards for pensioners whose companies go bankrupt.
A version of this article appeared in the Jan/Feb 2021 issue with the headline “Agent of Change,” p. 30.