NDP pledges to instate seniors’ advocate, independent care home review if elected

Saskatchewan NDP Leader Ryan Meili. (Jayda Taylor/Daily Herald)

The NDP says if they win the upcoming fall election they will have an independent investigation into the state of the province’s long-term care homes, enact legislated standards of care and bring in a seniors’ advocate.

Those promises were made by NDP leader Ryan Meili Friday in response to a report from the Saskatoon StarPhoenix that the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) is conducting an internal review into its long term care guidelines.

The revelation came as part of a response into concerns raised by a Wynyard, Sask. woman about the state of care at Jubilee Lodge in Foam Lake, where she says her grandmother had to wait almost an hour to use the washroom, was left incontinent and was only able to wash her hands once a week.

Marea Olafson said staff were “run off their feet” with work and that her grandmother had to make a special request just to wash her hands.

In a prepared statement, the SHA said it’s normal for residents to be offered a face towel twice a day. Residents are offered a bath or shower once a week, but those can be given more frequently on request, the health authority said.

“While specific handwashing times are not outlined in each residents’ care plan these can be added in at the resident/family’s request.”

The statement added that the staff plan to follow up with Olafson’s family to address concerns.

A statement added that the SHA regularly monitors care quality in long-term care homes, but a review of those guidelines is underway “with a focus on the quality of care standards.”

Friday, Meili said that isn’t good enough.

“That’s insulting,” he said.

“Internal reviews are part of the problem. This is a government that’s been running these internal reviews that don’t tell the true story of what’s happening in long term care, and now they’re talking about reviewing the guidelines that they’ve refused to make standards of care and insist on being enforceable.”

An outside, independent body needs to conduct the review, Meili said, something he said an NDP government would do. It would also create a senior’s advocate office. Finally, he said a government led by the NDP would invest in “the best home care in Canda.”

He refused to tie a dollar amount to his promise, promising to roll out a platform with dollar amounts attached in the coming weeks.

“But what we will commit to is minimum standards of care, including staff to resident ratios and the dollars to fund that will follow,” he said.

He compared a senior’s advocate to the office of the Child and Family Advocate.

“That office “plays a really important role in providing an independent assessment of the rights of kids, and in particular, kids in care,” he said.

“Having something for seniors, another very vulnerable population that’s independent, resourced by the province, is something we need.”

While work would begin as soon as possible following the election should the NDP be successful, Meili said in the meantime, that work could be performed by the provincial ombudsman’s office.

The NDP has called for enforceable minimum standards of care in the past, and they’re not the only ones. It’s also been a request of Mont St. Joseph Home in Prince Albert, which has found fault with both past NDP and Saskatchewan Party government handling of the long term care file.

In response, the Saskatchewan Party and Health Minister Jim Reiter along with Premier Scott Moe have pointed to the province’s long-term care guidelines as the minimum standards.

Mont St. Joseph Home executive director Brian Martin said those guidelines are out of date, and critics have said without legislated standards, they aren’t enforceable.

The Sask. Party has argued back that the difference between guidelines and standards is purely one of semantics. Meili doesn’t agree.

“That’s a bad argument,” he said.

“You have to have enforcement, otherwise guidelines are just suggestions. We see from the realities … that we know things are not being lived up to. The guidelines just aren’t succeeding.”

— with files from Zak Vescera, Saskatoon StarPhoenix