COVID-19 Shows Support for Home Care Long Overdue

By Kelli Stajduhar and Tanya Sanders

The global pandemic of COVID-19 has brought long-standing gaps in the Canadian care system sharply into focus, particularly for older adults who cannot live independently. As we collectively grasp the enormity of the troubling living conditions for Canada’s residents of long term care, and the resultant deaths due to to the pandemic, we must also consider how such tragedy could have been prevented — or at least minimized — in the first place.

It has been almost 20 years since Roy Romanow led the Royal Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada, highlighting an urgent need to build Canada’s home care programs. In 2009, the Canadian Healthcare Association published a road map for how to get there. And Canadians have repeatedly affirmed their wish to receive care ‘closer to home’ and forego the ever-expanding costs of institutional care.

Of the almost $264 billion that we spend each year in Canada on healthcare, estimates suggest only $3 billion to $6 billion is directed towards home care.

Instead, Canada has opted for a remarkably uninspiring “status-quo” over the past several decades.

Well before the COVID-19 crisis, the home care sector has been showing very clear signs of strain and dysfunction. Home care nurses in our research told us that home care is in a state of disarray. They face mounting pressures to get people with increasingly complex medical and social care needs out of hospitals without any substantial investment in publicly funded home care.

Nurses also told us they are under constant pressure to speed up and limit their services and even ration the care they provide.

Could all of the deaths from COVID-19 in Canada’s long term care system have been prevented? Probably not. But if Canada had something more in place, perhaps most older Canadians would not require help within institutional settings in the first place.

Our seniors and persons with disabilities deserve something more than what is essentially a patchwork system of subsidized and user-pay home care services and something more than pushing family caregivers to breaking points.

In these unprecedented times, we have the opportunity to fundamentally re-think how we care for some of our most vulnerable Canadians. To ignore this opportunity only serves to perpetuate the ongoing inequities that exist in our care system.

Editor’s Note: The situation surrounding COVID-19 is changing steadily and the above conditions and regulations may have altered since the date of publication.