The battle over whether or not Saskatchewan long-term care homes have minimum standards and are equipped to handle a COVID-19 outbreak continued Friday as the NDP held a press conference to rebuke assertions made by Premier Scott Moe Thursday.
Moe, citing a 191-page document laying out guidelines for care homes Thursday, said the NDP’s assertions that minimum standards didn’t exist for care homes were “not true” and “not helpful.”
He said the standards the province does have are part of the reason Saskatchewan’s COVID-19 death rate has been so low. The virus has yet to spread widely through Saskatchewan long-term care homes.
“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.”
That didn’t sit well with NDP leader Ryan Meili, who said Friday the inadequacies of those regulations are well-documented.
“We have a long-term problem with long-term care in Saskatchewan,” Meili said.
“Yesterday, Scott Moe tried to tell us they didn’t exist.”
Meili said those regulations are not legislated or enforceable. He said the move in 2011 to do away with minimum standards in favour of regulations came after Saskatchewan looked to Ontario for guidance.
Ontario is dealing with outbreaks of COVID-19 and concerns about care quality in its long-term care facilities.
“We’ve been lucky,” Meili said.
“It’s thanks to our good luck overall in the province and the hard work of people on the front line, people who are putting in extra hours” that the province hasn’t seen the same type of outbreaks, he argued.
“For so long, these centres have been understaffed and those staff have been overburdened. They only have minutes a day with each of the residents. The COVID-19 situation has revealed that even further. It’s noted just how much of the care visiting families have to do because those facilities are so understaffed.”
The solution, he said, is legislated minimum standards of care, staff ratios and minimum hours of care for patients.
Meili was joined by seniors critic Danielle Chartier as well as by Dianne Morgan, who witnessed her parents’ experience in the province’s long-term care system.
Morgan said her parents were in the facility for about three years up until 2019. During that time, she said, there were constant staff shortages. Her mom had bed sores until her death in 2019, and lost 50 pounds.
“You could put the call button on and wait 20 minutes to an hour before anyone was able to answer your call,” she said.
“Mom has, on one occasion, been given medication that was meant for another lady in her room.”
Morgan said her mom shared a room with three other women, and there wasn’t much privacy as there was no door, and only a curtain, on the bathroom. At times, her ward didn’t have a registered nurse available. She also said she saw times residents waited as much as an hour and a half, unattended in the dining hall, waiting for food.
“The number one issue was the lack of staffing,” she said.
“There was never a time there wasn’t a staff shortage.”
Watching her parents die in those conditions was “heartbreaking” and “heartwrenching,” Morgan added.
“You watch your parents dying in front of you and it’s very difficult. It was very difficult looking at my mom’s bedsores. I couldn’t believe it. It was tragic”
Chartier said Morgan’s story is one they’ve been hearing from families, residents, workers and unions for years.
Indeed, on Friday, the province quietly released a report into the state of its long-term care homes. The report identified small rooms, standards of care, mold, asbestos and staffing issues as some concerns in some of the province’s long-term care facilities. The report looked at each facility and considered what patients and families like and what they don’t. While concerns varied, the most common related to staffing challenges or a lack of resources.
“The premier’s comments yesterday were completely off base,” she said.
“For the premier to suggest there aren’t problems in long-term care, that’s not only unhelpful, it’s flat out wrong.”
Morgan said she would like to see enforceable minimum care standards and proper funding to ensure they can be put in place. She was upset when she heard the premier speak Thursday.
“It wasn’t the truth,” she said. “There are problems in senior care facilities, especially in Regina, that I’m aware of.”
Despite what happened, Chartier said Morgan’s parents were lucky as they had family who could help where they couldn’t. So many more don’t.
“That’s what our system has come to, relying on loved ones to provide that support. Both the ombudsman and the auditor have pointed out that the guidelines are great but there is no way to make those happen,” she said.
“Both are very clear in their report that these are guidelines that need to be operationalized and they don’t have the policies and procedures in place to do that. We’ve been arguing that not only do we need to have those … standards in place, they need to be legislated to strengthen them. The legislation is a lot stronger than a policy document and can’t just be changed with the stroke of a pen.”
Meili said the issue is one the government has to face, as care home staff are doing what they can in the situation. It’s not a question of public or private, he said, but of having enforceable standards of care.
That, he said, falls squarely on Moe’s shoulders.
The premier’s comments “are beyond disappointing and reprehensible when we know how serious this situation is and how many of our seniors and loved ones are in very difficult circumstances,” he said.
“Ownership is not the question as much as the standards of care. You need to have those standards of care in every facility.”