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Canada’s Historical Negligence of Long Term Care Homes Looms over COVID-19 Tragedy | Op-Ed

Despite early warnings, Canada has failed to protect its long term care homes and the drastic consequences are starting to show. How did it happen and was it preventable? Even before many facts were known about the COVID-19 virus, early demographics from China and later Italy confirmed that the elderly would be the most vulnerable from the novel virus. On March 7th, British Columbia’s chief medical officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry announced that a care worker and two residents had tested positive for COVID-19 at the Lynn Valley Care Center in North Vancouver. On the very next day, a resident at the facility would become the first Canadian victim to succumb to the virus. Over the course of the next month, Lynn Valley had reported a further 78 COVID-19 cases and 18 deaths. Meanwhile, hundreds of other long-term care centers in Canada had declared their own outbreaks and a national tragedy was underway.

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As Quebec and Ontario have come into the COVID-19 spotlight, accounting for over 80% of reported cases in Canada, long-term care facilities have become the epicenter in the fight against the virus. Almost daily reports of new deaths and infections from different facilities paint a terrifying picture of the hardship being faced by residents, care-givers and their families. In Ontario on Tuesday, the Premier announced that 114 out of the provinces 626 long-term care facilities were facing outbreaks with more at risk. In Quebec, Easter weekend brought devastating news of 31 elderly found dead at a near-abandoned facility in Dorval outside of Montreal where mass negligence by private care company had led to a national tragedy. So far, provinces have largely blamed care-givers working at multiple facilities for the rapid spread and have announced emergency declarations to limit this. However, the reality is that decades of under-funding, lack of staffing and privatization are to blame for this crisis and require more than bandage solutions. The structural negligence of our elderly is now being manifested in the cruelest way possible as residents of long-term care homes shelter in their rooms afraid of the known unknowns. Sadly though, the emergency measures taken by provincial governments are likely to only perpetuate some of these core issues. Care-givers working at multiple facilities have been forced to do so because their pay and benefits have been reduced so drastically that they need to seek multiple jobs to survive. Furthermore, under the for profit environment, care-givers will likely now be forced to work at the facilities which can offer the most pay; further increasing the type of negligence at cost-cutting long-term care homes that was responsible for deaths seen in Dorval this past weekend.