Urgent Call for Action to Protect New Brunswick Seniors

Commentary by: Paula Doucet, NBNU President

Like most Canadians, the New Brunswick Nurses Union (NBNU) was deeply troubled by the findings of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) in the course of their recent deployment within several long-term care homes in Ontario and Quebec.

For more than a decade, NBNU, in conjunction with other provincial nurses’ unions, has been amplifying the concerns of registered nurses working in the long-term care sector. In that time, governments have been briefed again and again on the significant problems regarding standards of care, funding, wages and hours of work in long-term care homes – particularly in private-for-profit (P3) facilities.

The recent release of the CAF’s findings has succeeded in bringing these deplorable conditions into sharp public focus in a way that we hope will finally galvanize decision-makers to act.

Let us be clear: these conditions are the direct result of decades of putting profit before people.

Approximately 80% of deaths in Canada due to COVID-19 have taken place in long-term care facilities. The refusal to take responsibility for the long-standing crisis in long-term care in this country has gone on for far too long and its true cost is measured in lives lost.

Let’s stop hiding behind squabbles over federal and provincial/territorial jurisdiction and roll up our sleeves to finally tackle these longstanding issues.

The situation in long-term care is urgent: of 14 countries surveyed during the current pandemic, Canada had the highest proportion of deaths among seniors. Canada also has one of the highest infection rates for COVID-19 among health care workers, many of whom are staff in long-term care.

While for-profit, non-profit and municipal long-term care facilities are all equally likely to experience disease outbreaks, studies have shown that non-profit and government run homes have been more effective at containing such outbreaks and preventing deaths than for-profit facilities. That’s because for-profit care long-term care is not about promoting the health and wellbeing of residents and caregivers – it’s about padding the bottom line and paying dividends to shareholders. The difference in these approaches is literally a matter of life and death for Canadian seniors.

Both our provincial and federal governments have repeatedly shown throughout this pandemic their capability of assuming new responsibilities when necessary to mitigate the impact of COVID-19. Just last week, the federal government announced a much-needed new policy to provide ten days of paid sick leave for workers across the country. We urge you to continue employing such novel solutions to respond meaningfully to the crisis in Canadian long-term care.

In conjunction with the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions (CFNU), NBNU calls on government to immediately take the following actions:

  • Bring long-term care in Canada into the public health system and regulate it according to the fundamental principles of the Canada Health Act;
  • Eliminate private, for-profit businesses from the long-term care sector altogether;
  • Require appropriate staffing and health and safety protections for workers; and
  • Match wages and benefits for long-term care workers to the value of the work they perform.

Today, approximately 400,000 seniors live in Canada’s retirement and long-term care homes. As a nation, we must assume a collective responsibility for residents of these homes and for their experience during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a country, we have to make different choices to change this tragic reality. National standards and accountability are long overdue, and profit must be removed altogether from the long-term care sector.

NBNU has spent the past two years investigating the dangerous conditions within New Brunswick’s long-term care sector. Our findings will be published in a report titled, The Forgotten Generation which will drop in September and includes 38 recommendations to reform our broken system.

The New Brunswick Nurses Union (NBNU) is a labour organization of approximately 6900 Registered Nurses and Nurse Practitioners who are employed in various healthcare facilities throughout the province of New Brunswick. Together, we form a strong and unified voice.