Residents and workers in Canada’s long-term care system have been harmed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and those who are racialized and from immigrant communities have likely been the hardest hit, according to a new report.
But the lack of demographic data on what these groups face in long-term care makes it difficult to pin down how they have been affected and what their needs are, according to the doctors and researchers who wrote the report, published Thursday by the Wellesley. Institute. and the National Institute on Aging.
“Without data we couldn’t see the impact of COVID-19 on long-term care,” said Seong-gee Um, a researcher at the Wellesley Institute, a Toronto-based nonprofit research and policy organization. “We know that there are large disparities in terms of access to long-term care and health outcomes among various population groups of older people, especially in the GTA.”
Without information about who lives in long-term care, what socioeconomic factors they face and what their needs are, it is difficult to know how to improve conditions, the report explains.
“The impact of the pandemic has exposed the inequalities experienced in our society, which has signaled that this is the right time” to collect data, he said.
There are few long-term care homes in the province that serve specific racial groups or those with a specific gender identity or sexuality, according to earlier research from the Wellesley Institute, which The Star reported earlier this year. Those houses, mostly concentrated in the GTA, have a disproportionately longer wait time. For example, homes specifically for Chinese Canadians have an estimated waiting time of two to four years, and many people wait even longer.
Building a long-term care system that serves multiple groups is crucial to ensuring that older people receive the best possible treatment, especially when it is generally the most vulnerable older people who end up in these homes, Um said.
Um said that for residents who do not speak English as their first language and may have dementia, the COVID-induced isolation has likely been worse and may have exacerbated their symptoms.
Data from the Ontario Long Term Care Association shows that 64 percent of nursing home residents in 2019 were diagnosed with dementia; 90 percent had some type of cognitive impairment.
“The loss of essential family supports means that they would not have support communicating their support needs to workers if they are not placed in a home where they provide language support,” Um said. “Not many people are lucky enough to have that kind of environment.”
A report from Statistics Canada in June explained that small data it has been compiled on long-term care nationwide, despite the fact that half a million Canadians live in such settings. As of March of this year, long-term care deaths from COVID-19 accounted for 50 percent of the country’s total deaths, as residents often have complex health conditions and live in close contact with other people, which which made them more susceptible to disease. the report said.
The massive impact of COVID on Canada’s long-term care system further exposed the cracks that were already present. The deaths and cases in homes prompted the federal government to say it plans to approach the provinces on national standards around long-term care, and various health organizations are beginning to form new standards that they plan to introduce into the system. .
Although researchers have been discussing the topic of culturally relevant services in long-term care long before the pandemic, the environment is now poised for change and they are hopeful that calls for deeper data collection will be heard. Um said.
Dr. Samir Sinha, director of health policy research at the National Institute on Aging, said that you can only create better care when you understand and know the people you serve.
“If it’s a home that serves indigenous peoples, for example, there may be survivors from residential schools,” he said. “And do staff have adequate training and support to identify problems that exist among survivors in residential schools?” he said. “It’s understanding the cultural context of the community that we might be serving.”
Sinha, who co-authored the report with Um and others, also leads the Health Standards Organization committee in its research on improving long-term care homes.
Canada has a bad reputation when it comes to long-term care and is historically behind in collecting sociodemographic data, and this is an opportunity to improve that and the long-term care system, he said.
“When we talk about developing new national standards for long-term care … you can’t make improvements unless you are really measuring yourself.”