'Long-term care is fundamentally broken': Thousands petition to protect seniors in COVID-19-stricken homes

Canadians from across the country are banding together to call for major changes to the infrastructure and funding of long-term care homes. 

A petition launched in early April calls on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and ministers from all provinces and territories to fund and implement best practices for all such facilities in all of Canada. The petition had garnered nearly 55,000 signatures.

A recent report by the International Long-Term Care Policy Network that 62 percent of COVID-19 deaths in Canada were linked to long-term care homes. That number was the highest out of the 13 countries included in the study that collects such data, like Germany and France. Meanwhile, research from the National Institute on Aging found that seniors in long-term care facilities made up 82 percent of COVID-19 related deaths in Canada. 

Katerina Cezik and family visit her father who was placed in a long term home in February.
Katerina Cezik and family visit her father who was placed in a long term home in February.

Katerina Cizek’s father was placed in a Toronto care home in February, a few weeks before the pandemic was officially declared. Her anxiety started mounting when she began noticing the alarming number of deaths of seniors in facilities coming out of Spain. Then, she read an article that quoted a Canadian geriatric physician who urged people to get their loved ones out of care homes.

“The sense we’d already made that painful decision to put him in care and then were expected to re-think that decision during a pandemic, was a nightmare.” Katerina Cizek tells Yahoo News Canada

While there’s been no reported cases of COVID-19 at Cizek’s father’s care home, she took to social media to articulate the fear and frustration she felt, and quickly realized that her concerns were far reaching. People from all parts of the country, with loved ones in care homes, were experiencing similar worries. And so, a month later, the petition was launched.

“Each of these facilities is it’s own disaster in its own unique way,” sys Cizek. “There’s been so many structural issues, the pandemic is just revealing and exposing something that is already very broken in the ways these facilities are run. There’s an overall huge concern and worry and realization of these places completely collapsing. This is very close to home.”

Katerina Cizek and family peer through the glass of a long term home facility in Toronto where her father has been since February.
Katerina Cizek and family peer through the glass of a long term home facility in Toronto where her father has been since February.

“I was seeing the writing on the wall”

Michelle van Beusekom, who’s based in Montreal, helped launch the petition, before both her parents, who are in a facility in Brampton, were diagnosed with the virus. 

“I was seeing the writing on the wall where this was headed,” she says. 

She says her parent’s facility, which is not-for-profit, normally runs thanks to the help of family and community members. Once the lockdown started, van Beusekom began to fear that staff would quickly become overwhelmed. Then, a staff member came to work unknowingly with the virus, which spread to the majority of the other workers and many of the seniors. Van Beusekom says that so far, there have been 10 deaths. Medically trained members of the Canadian Armed Forces have been deployed to help at the facility. 

Van Beusekom says while the ministry of health has been stressing the importance of testing, there hasn’t been nearly enough at the care facility. Her parents, who’ve been asymptomatic and in quarantine for two weeks, were recently declared to be in the clear,  but weren’t administered a new test to confirm. 

“They’re blocked because the Ontario Ministry of Health is not testing and re-testing in long-term care,” she says. “We know that 80 per cent of deaths in Canada are linked to long-term care and they’re not authorizing testing in Ontario. It’s beyond frustrating. There’s a big disconnect between what’s being promised and what’s happening.”

She says not being able to visit her parents or do anything to help made her feel powerless, which is why she helped launch the petition. 

“It gives a sense that we’re doing something and it’s encouraging to see the 45,000 people who’ve signed on across the country,” she says. “It just confirmed what we knew when we started this, that these concerns are nationwide. Long-term care is fundamentally broken, underfunded, understaffed. And a big cultural shift has to happen when it comes to valuing the lives of the residents and the workers.”