OTTAWA — The federal budget is promising billions to close gaps in long-term care and Canada’s vaccine production laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic.
There is $2.2 billion over the next seven years — split up through various funds and programs — the Liberals say is meant to rebuild the life sciences and pharmaceutical production industries that up and left for more supportive countries over the last 30 years.
Canada is at the mercy of other countries for its entire supply of vaccines right now, leaving Canada to wait and watch some of its allies get vaccines into arms and return to a more normal life much faster.
There is also some money to address the mental health crises erupting from the COVID-19 pandemic, and small amounts for palliative care and to ensure access to medical assistance in dying.
But it is long-term care that hosted the greatest tragedies of COVID-19, a system of care for Canada’s most vulnerable seniors that Freeland says cannot be allowed to continue as is.
More than 15,000 seniors died of COVID-19 in long-term care homes, almost two-thirds of Canada’s total death toll from the pandemic to date.
Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland say it is nothing short of a complete failure.
“To them, and to their families, let me say this,” she said in her prepared speech to the House of Commons.
“I am so sorry. We owe you so much better than this.”
The standards will be based on work underway by the Canadian Standards Association and the Health Standards Organization, which began last month.
The CSA is seeking to establish normal practices for the physical design and operations of long-term care homes, including ventilation, while the HSO is looking at infection control, safety and quality of care.
Provincial governments have jurisdiction for long-term care so any funding from Ottawa would have to be sent to them. The Canada Health Act does not currently include long-term care, making it difficult for Ottawa to use existing health transfers to help push any specific standards for care.
It is not clear yet exactly how the funds will flow, or what provinces will have to agree to do but the budget does promise to respect provincial jurisdiction.
“This work would ensure seniors and those in care live in safe and dignified conditions,” the budget plan says.
The Canadian military and the Canadian Red Cross have been called on multiple times to aid in long-term care homes over the last year and their reports have not been flattering.
The horror stories include rodent and bug-infested buildings that were so that residents were often left for hours in soiled clothing, without food or water.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 19, 2021.