Bringing long-term care under the Canada Health Act umbrella

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted what is very wrong with the way we care for Canada’s senior citizens.
Care Watch has long advocated that the Canada Health Act’s five legislated principles (public administration, comprehensiveness, universality, portability, and accessibility) should apply to long-term care services, whether those services are in institutions, at home, or in the community. We have also called for national senior care standards that would reflect those principles. We are not the only ones calling for these standards. This call is also trumpeted by organizations and unions supporting pandemic front line workers. Included are the Ontario Health Coalition, SEIU, ONA, and Unfor. Now, the Globe & Mail’s opinion editor Gary Mason (May 8, 2020) has gone even further by advocating that seniors’ care be formally included in the Canada Health Act.

Prime Minister Trudeau (Toronto Star, May 8, 2020) says the post-pandemic reviews will consider bringing long-term care under the Canada Health Act’s umbrella. However, the premiers of some provinces (such as Ontario and Quebec, which, ironically, are most affected by the pandemic) are already lining up against the potential of applying any national standards. They argue that it is unnecessary and that the federal government should simply give them more funding to address the issues.

We believe provinces should receive more funding only if that funding is tied to enforceable national standards. COVID-19 has shown us that neglect of standards leads to neglect of care. We assert that long-term care services – in the home and community or in facilities – are necessary components of our broader health care system and must be treated as such.
Post-pandemic, we can expect many of our systems to be restructured. Structures change and evolve, but values and principles remain constant. National frameworks such as the Canada Health Act provide a foundation and guidance for consistent and coordinated provincial/territorial action. We continue to learn from the pandemic experience, but we have already learned that long-term care needs to be guided by the Canada Health Act.

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