Canada’s Long-Term Care System: A Work in Progress

Canada’s universal health care system began in 1962 amidst heated debate between the political left and right, but it has since become a point of pride for most Canadians. Public health issues that are discussed often pertain to the most immediate concerns, such as pharmacare and childcare — leaving long-term care on the backburner.

With nearly 80% of Canadian COVID-19 deaths attributed to long-term care facilities, the recent pandemic has all but exposed the gaping flaws in a system that has failed our most vulnerable citizens.

Inadequate staffing and poor quality of living due to under-regulation are among the worst of these flaws.

To begin, personal support workers are the main caregivers in long-term care facilities, yet they are barely regulated. With few personal and educational entry requirements, most workers are immigrant women who are paid minimum wage and must work in several understaffed homes in order to earn a full salary (source: Laura Osman/National Post).

Due to the highly contagious nature of the virus, workers excessively travelling to different homes presents a great danger to seniors.

One easily identifiable solution to this is to restrict workers to only be employed to one site and raise their salaries. However, this solution cannot remain temporary for the pandemic; regulations must be implemented to the long-term care system and maintained for the safety of workers as well as seniors. Raised salaries, increased benefits (paid sick leave), and proper training will contribute to improved quality of service from the workers, encourage more people to work at these facilities, and protect the residents.

Another issue that has been brought to light is the substandard quality of life in certain homes. A report recently published by the military deployed to homes in Ontario depicts the horrendous conditions some residents are experiencing. It outlines incidents of neglect, aggressive treatment towards residents, and poor standards of practice (source: TV Ontario). Of the five facilities mentioned, all of them are private with four being for-profit organizations.

The Ontario Health Coalition found that as of May 5th, the proportion of deaths out of the total number of beds in for-profit homes was 9% versus 3.62% in public homes (source: Ontario Health Coalition).

Although the cause of the higher proportion of deaths in for-profit homes cannot be explicitly linked to poor living conditions, this is certainly no coincidence. Lack of regulations in private homes have allowed corporations to exploit labour from underpaid workers at the expense of our seniors’ wellbeing. The government must enforce stricter regulations to better train personal support workers and increase rates of inspection for long-term care homes to provide higher quality living.

In conclusion, we need to invest towards properly equipping workers in our long-term care system whilst creating higher standards of living to be inspected regularly, which will prevent private corporations from taking advantage of residents and their families.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a nationwide wake-up call to the problems that have long plagued our beloved health care system. For the sake of our seniors, it is an issue we can no longer neglect.

Further reading:

Osman, Laura: “No Easy Fix for Long-Term Care Home Problems Highlighted by COVID-19.” National Post, 9 May 2020.

TV Ontario: Staff. “COVID-19: Read the Canadian Forces Report on Long-Term Care.”, 2020.

Ontario Health Coalition: “RELEASE & ANALYSIS: COVID-19 Death Rates in Ontario Long-Term Care Homes Significantly Higher and Increasing in For-Profit Homes vs. Non-Profit and Publicly-Owned Homes: New Data Analysis.” Ontario Health Coalition, 2020.

Watch the thank you video by this article’s author, CIPP 2020 Scholarship Winner Annabel Zhu: