Wake-Up Call: Canada's Long-Term Care Crisis
Director of Research and Policy, Hospital Employees' Union
Lou Black is the Director of Research and Policy for BC's Hospital Employees’ Union (HEU). She holds a BA in Economics and Gender Studies from Simon Fraser University, and an MA in Community and Regional Planning from the University of British Columbia. Her research has focused on working conditions in health care, long-term care service delivery, and the integration of community and labour organizing. She has been with the HEU for the last 14 years.
The HEU represents members in all areas of the health care system, from hospitals to group homes, and labs to home care. For 75 years, the HEU has advocated for better working and caring conditions, defended public health care delivery, and spoken out against privatization. The HEU represents 50,000 health care workers across BC.
Executive Director, Tabor Village
Dan Levitt is an acclaimed international speaker, elder care leader, writer and gerontologist, specializing in helping others to create better lives for seniors. Dan’s purpose is to teach people how to transform the lives of older adults across the globe. As a popular professional speaker, he has delivered inspiring keynote speeches impacting thousands of people on four continents. Dan doesn’t tell people where to go but guides them in the direction of where they need to go. His talks leave the audience with a new mindset on aging needed to thrive in the 21st century.
As the Executive Director of Tabor Village, Dan Levitt shepherds the enhancement of social, spiritual and care needs for more than 300 seniors, inspiring a team of over 400 employees and volunteers with a commitment to continuously improving the quality of life. Dan is an Adjunct Professor in Gerontology at Simon Fraser University, an Adjunct Professor in the School of Nursing at the University of British Columbia, and a Sessional Instructor at the British Columbia Institute of Technology.
Dan’s adventure exploits have taken him from Africa’s highest peak, Mt. Kilimanjaro, to the Caribbean Sea’s coral reefs, from canoeing across the Yukon to racing in the six World Marathon Majors.
Chief Executive Officer, SafeCare BC
Jennifer Lyle is the Chief Executive Officer of BC’s continuing care workplace safety association, SafeCare BC. Prior to coming on board with SafeCare BC, Jennifer worked in a dual role as a health care practitioner and the Director of Operations for a Burnaby-based rehabilitation organization after graduating from Simon Fraser University with a Bachelor of Science degree. She later obtained her Master of Health Administration at the University of British Columbia. During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, Jennifer led her team in a rapid realignment of operations, including the launch of a province-wide PPE initiative, Operation Protect, which led to the procurement of over 1.25 million PPE items in three months.
Jennifer is a strong advocate for thinking about the health care system as an interconnected ecosystem, and believes that being nimble and attuned to the needs of continuing care providers is critical during times of emergency. In her down time, you can find Jennifer hiking in the backcountry, spending time with her family, or volunteering in the community (albeit in a physically distanced way these days).
Isobel has over 20 years’ experience working with seniors in home care, licensed care, community services and volunteer services. Isobel led BC’s largest not-for-profit agency, serving over 6,000 seniors annually. In this work, Isobel led the pioneering of a new model of dementia care that has become a national best practice. She led the first safety accreditation for home care workers, among many other accomplishments. Isobel has been widely recognized for her work and was named BC CEO of the Year for the Not-for-Profit Sector and nominated as a Provincial Health Care Hero.
Prior to her appointment as the Seniors Advocate, Isobel served on a number of national and provincial boards and commissions including the BC Medical Services Commission, the Canadian Home Care Association, the BC Care Providers Association, the BC Care Aide and Community Health Worker Registry, and the Capital Regional District Housing Corporation.
Isobel received both her undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Victoria and has a Certificate in Health Care Leadership from the University of Toronto. Isobel lives in Victoria.
Highlights from Wake-Up Call: Canada’s Long-Term Care Crisis
By Thomas Jenkins, Ph.D. Student, SFU Department of Gerontology
On National Seniors Day, over 200 individuals came together to listen to and engage with a panel of experts regarding the long-term care crisis in Canada at Wake-Up Call: Canada’s Long-Term Care Crisis, hosted by SFU’s Department of Gerontology and SFU Public Square.
Seniors’ advocates have been calling for reforms to address the crisis in long-term care for years. Now, the COVID-19 pandemic has given a powerful—and painful—wake-up call to the systemic gaps in our long-term care sector, with 82 per cent of pandemic-related deaths in Canada happening in care homes.
Event moderator Habib Chaudhury, Professor and Chair of SFU’s Department of Gerontology, opened the event by advocating for systemic reformation founded upon holistic care, stating that the current crisis provides us with a historic opportunity to enact transformative change within the long-term care system.
He was joined by the following speakers for a deeper discussion of the issues and how to address them.
Executive Director, Tabor Village
Dan Levitt asserted that individuals living in long-term care “have a life worth living” and that their choice of address during a pandemic should not necessitate them revoking their human rights. He argued that people in aged care should maintain the following rights: self-initiated access to medical care, the ability to move out and have a choice in where they want to live, the capacity to maintain familial and community connections, and access to end-of-life care. Dan recommended balancing the risks against such factors as loneliness to maintain the foundational rights of those in aged care.
CEO, SafeCare BC
Jennifer Lyle used three terms to describe the ongoing issues within the long-term care sector: “understaffed, under-resourced, and under pressure.” COVID-19 has exacerbated existing challenges and resulted in new ones, such as the critical shortage in personal protective equipment (PPE). Jennifer stated that the single-site staffing order – instituted by the B.C. government to reduce the spread of infection by ensuring care staff do not work at multiple care sites – has led to further staffing shortages. Further, she spoke to the hidden mental health pandemic caused by the pressures placed upon staff. Care workers are anxious, burned out, and afraid they may introduce COVID-19 into their facility or take it home. While community efforts have improved the situation in B.C., Jennifer cautioned that these issues will arise again; they may just look different.
“We must do better. We owe it to our elders and we owe it to our future selves,” she said.
Director of Research and Policy, Hospital Employees’ Union (HEU)
Lou Black delved into the issues faced by care aides who work in long-term care. As a union, HEU represents many care aides, of which one third work in the long-term care sector. Lou stated the single-site order both highlighted and helped remedy existing issues in long-term care. Existing staffing shortages were exacerbated by the single-site order because there are fewer casuals to provide relief in the system; however, the order also illuminated that equitable wages for these essential workers are possible. Sustaining the temporary wage increases, introduced by the single-site order, holds the potential to mitigate the need for care aides to work at multiple sites again. The pandemic clarified the need for wage increases and stabilization, permanent full-time positions, and enhanced benefits.
“We call them heroes, we did the 7:00 p.m. cheer for many months, and we need to make sure we back that up with actual investment,” Lou said.
CEO, Fair Haven Homes Society
Joy Parsons oversees the care of 600 older adults in addition to supporting 400 staff members. She spoke about the chaos of this unprecedented time, the overwhelming amount of daily information, the associated staff and family member anxiety, and her race to support her staff to enable them to provide care. Joy noted that the average age of the health care workers in her facilities is 47, with many belonging to the “sandwich generation” who support both their children and their parents while maintaining full-time employment. Despite these pressures, Joy’s staff worked to develop unique solutions to allow for safe family visitation and access to PPE.
“Our staff are the foundation of making sure we’re doing the best we can,” she said.
BC Seniors Advocate
Isobel Mackenzie talked about the fragmentation of the long-term care system and how the current model of complex care is no longer adequate. Isobel advocated for a shift in how we conceive aged care, beckoning us to focus on the intrinsic needs of those in long-term care in addition to their basic needs. The public outrage in response to the conditions in facilities demonstrates the necessary public and political will to advance an agenda for reformation.
However, “we need to ensure this groundswell of public support for seniors is sustained once we are through the pandemic,” she said.
What remains clear is that our current system is characterized by a complex set of issues which impact care provision. The impact of this crisis is different depending on your role and interaction with this system. Addressing the crisis will require a coordinated multidisciplinary approach; maintaining siloed perspectives will cause conflict and slow progress.
Nevertheless, we are unified by our passion for change, representing an opportunity for a collective effort to drive meaningful systemic reformation. We unequivocally owe this to the individuals who have lost their lives to this, to those who are at risk in this system, and to the individuals who will need this system in the future. As Jessie Williams, Director of Indigenous Relations for SFU’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, eloquently stated in her opening welcome to the event, “We must protect our elders as they have protected us. We are all elders in training.”
Further reading: “A Billion Reasons to Care” – BC Seniors Advocate