Premier Scott Moe is firing back after the provincial NDP accused the government of creating similar conditions faced by long-term care homes in Ontario fighting a wave of COVID-19 deaths.
The provincial opposition held a press conference Thursday calling on the Saskatchewan party to reestablish minimum care standards and staffing ratios they say were dropped in 2011.
“The situation in Ontario and Quebec shone a light on deplorable conditions in seniors’ care homes. We know that Saskatchewan has followed Ontario’s playbook of scrapping legislated care standards and expanding for-profit care, and has seen many of the same problems Ontario has,” said seniors’ critic Danielle Chartier.
“While we are thankful this pandemic has not yet entered our long-term care homes, that does not mean similar conditions don’t exist or that our system could manage if it does. Now is the time to dedicate the resources needed to ensure seniors get the care they need — this means re-establishing minimum care standards and ensuring funding is adequate to meet those standards.”
Moe, though, was not a fan of the comparison.
“With respect to minimum standards of care, the point put forward by the opposition simply aren’t true and simply aren’t helpful,” he said during a press conference Thursday.
“We do have guidelines for care here in this province. I bought them with me. It’s 191 pages of guidelines. I would go to the very opening page, about halfway down, where it says the standards set within this manual are considered minimum standards.”
Moe continued, saying Saskatchewan does have program guidelines for special care homes which are considered the minimum standards in the province.
“We are very fortunate that these are working,” Moe said.
“Because we have a very competent, hardworking and dedicated staff in our long term care homes across this province that are adhering to the guidelines and the standards that we have, and they are doing a very good job, that is showing in our numbers.”
Moe attributed Saskatchewan’s COVID-19 mortality rate, which sits well-below the global and national rates, with preventing the virus from spreading in long-term care homes.
In Canada, he said, that rate is 181 deaths per million population. In Th US it’s about 310 and worldwide it sits at 46. In Saskatchewan, it’s just 8.5.
“We’ve done very very well in Saskatchewan. That is in a large part because we have not had the very, very difficult situation of having COVID-189 run through our long term care centres.”
Nationally, about 83 per cent of deaths from COVID-19 have come from long-term care homes. In Ontario, the shocking conditions of some private facilities led to the military issuing reports calling out the appalling state of some homes.
While COVID-19 has been detected in care homes in the province, it hasn’t led to widespread outbreaks or deaths.
“Much of that is due to the minimum guidelines we have, (and) from the adherence of staff and effort and dedication of the staff we have in each of our facilities across the province,” Moe said.
“They are literally saving lives.”
Despite Moe’s attestations, the current state of Saskatchewan’s special care homes has been roundly criticized.
In 2015. The provincial ombudsman found that neither health ministry guidelines nor the policies of a Regina care facility were followed in the death of a 74-year old woman.
The 2017 provincial auditor’s report that the Saskatoon Regional Health Authority needed to do more to oversee 20 private special care homes.
The NDP have twice attempted to pass private member’s bills calling for the re-establishment of minimum care standards, but were defeated both times.
The minimum care standards were replaced with the 191-page document Moe alluded to Thursday, called “Program Guidelines for Special Care Homes.”
The NDP says the old requirements included the requirement that staff spend at least 1.4 hours on each resident per day.
The NDP also pointed out that the government’s own pandemic guidelines, there are exceptions allowing for two visitors where the care team doesn’t have adequate staffing levels to provide proper care.
“Not every senior has a family member who can go and supplement short-staffed care,” said Chartier.
“It’s the government’s job to ensure there’s enough staff to meet resident needs, and if that’s not possible, they need to get more staff on the front lines and reverse their decision to scrap minimum care standards.”
Moe, though, said the province’s efforts also helped keep COVID-19 at bay.
“What you’ll see on the long term care front is there are some significant challenges in parts of this nation,” he said.
“We’ve had the ability to cohort those staff so they’re able to work in one facility. We had some time to react relative to what some other provinces had with how COVID-19 spread throughout their community.”