Establishing national standards for long-term care homes across the country remains a “huge priority,” for the federal government, Canada’s Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs says.
In an interview with The West Block’s Abigail Bimman, Dominic LeBlanc said an independent group of experts — the National Standards Council — is currently preparing a list of best practices, standards and benchmarks.
“Those standards are being worked on,” he said. “And we have a number of provinces that are telling us they’re more than happy to collaborate with us and to see federal investments go to improve those standards in their provinces.”
While long-term care falls under provincial and territorial jurisdiction, after the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic devastated long-term care facility residents and workers, the federal government promised it would create national standards to ensure those within the facilities are protected.
A report published by the Canadian Institute for Health Information found that between March 1, 2020, and February 15, 2021, more than 2,500 care homes across the country experienced a COVID-19 outbreak, resulting in the deaths of more than 14,000 residents and close to 30 staff.
According to Health Canada, those aged 80 and up account for 66.9 per cent of Canada’s total COVID-19-related deaths, while those aged 70 to 79 accounted for 19.8 per cent of the country’s total coronavirus-related fatalities.
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In the 2020 speech from the throne, then-Governor General Julie Payette said the federal government would work to set “new, national standards” for long-term care, so that seniors “get the best support possible.”
She said the government would also work on amending the Criminal Code to “explicitly penalize those who neglect seniors under their care, putting them in danger.”
Further, in the 2021 federal budget released last month, the government pledged $3 billion over the next five years to help the provinces implement these new standards.
Speaking in the House of Commons in April, Finance Minister Chrysyia Freeland said the funds will begin flowing next year after the standards are put into place.
LeBlanc did not specify a timeline for when these standards could be ready for implementation, saying only that work is underway.
He said these standards “shouldn’t be developed by politicians” but “by experts in infection prevention, infection control and caring for persons that are elderly or that are vulnerable.”
He added, though, that in the last week he spoke with three premiers regarding the long-term care facilities.
“My conversation with at least three premiers in the last week tells me that they’re ready to announce joint efforts with us very soon on how we can collaborate to set those national standards,” he said.
“We’re going to proceed, Abigail, with jurisdictions that want to join us.”
LeBlanc was also asked about federal government support for Alberta, which has been especially hard-hit by the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The province added 1,980 new cases of the virus on Friday alone, and health officials confirmed four more people had died.
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LeBlanc said the federal government is “obviously very concerned” with the COVID-19 cases in Alberta.
“The provinces are very aware of the suite of measures that we have to support them into a system,” he said. “And obviously, if the government of Alberta asks for any assistance, we’ll do whatever it takes to support them and to support the people of Alberta.”
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney told reporters on Friday that he would be pressing the federal government to do what it can to acquire surplus COVID-19 vaccines from the United States.
–With files from The Canadian Press
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