The head of a patient advocacy organization in Quebec says the provincial government violated the rights of residents in retirement and long-term care homes in the province by failing to respond to international warnings by the World Health Organization about their vulnerability to COVID-19.
That accusation comes after NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau clashed today over the federal government’s role in the country’s long-term care homes, where 80 per cent of Canada’s more than 5,000 pandemic deaths have taken place.
“They affected the fundamental rights of thousands of Quebecers and Canadians, people who had the basic right to receive vital care, to not be neglected,” Paul Brunet, president of the Conseil pour la protection des malades, told MPs on a House of Commons virtual committee meeting today. “COVID-19 does not seem to be a national emergency in Quebec.”
Brunet said that long-term care and retirement homes in the province saw a lack of testing, screening and treatment measures, despite warnings from the World Health Organization in late and February and early March.
“This is a scandal,” Brunet said. “Three months later, after three notices by the WHO and a private note to the minister of health on this subject, [and] hundreds of media reports throughout the world, the Quebec government finally decided to act in long-term care homes.”
Brunet said hospitals in Quebec were hospitalizing seniors suffering from bed sores and dehydration because they were neglected in the province’s long-term care facilities.
In Quebec, more than 90 per cent of the 3,220 people who’ve died pandemic-related deaths have been individuals 70 years of age or older.
In the House of Commons today, Singh pointed out that the situation in care homes inside and outside of Quebec is so dire the military has been called in. Ontario has about 250 soldiers helping in long-term care homes, while Quebec was expected to have as many as 1,350 soldiers there by the middle of May.
“Despite all this, the prime minister has said recently that he doesn’t feel it’s the federal government’s responsibility to find a solution,” Singh said. “How can he say that to families reeling with the loss, that it’s not the federal government’s responsibility to play a role in solving this problem?”
Watch: NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh on a national ‘care guarantee’ for long-term care:
Singh said the federal government should ensure there is a “national care guarantee” mandating standards in long-term care homes. He said Ottawa should increase funding distributed to the provinces, put an end to for-profit long-term care facilities and boost pay for people working in these facilities.
Trudeau pointed out that provinces are responsible for the operation of long-term care homes, while reminding Singh that his party lost most of its seats in Quebec in the last election.
“Perhaps the fact that the NDP no longer has many seats in Quebec has caused it to forget the importance of respecting the Constitution and the areas of jurisdiction of provincial vs. federal government,” Trudeau said.
The federal government will work with provincial governments as a partner while respecting their jurisdiction, Trudeau said.
“We respect the Constitution, we respect areas of provincial jurisdiction, but as I have said from the very beginning of this crisis, we will be there to help the provinces as they manage the challenges that they’re facing,” he said.
Amanda Vyce represents members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees who work in long-term care. She said she has been calling on the federal government to work with provinces and territories to bring long-term care under the Canada Health Act, making it a publicly insured core health care service that is accessible and universal.
“COVID-19 didn’t create the deadly crisis we’re facing in long term care. The systemic issues that facilitated this heartbreaking situation existed long before this moment. What the pandemic is doing is shining a spotlight on those problems and making them worse,” she told the House of Commons health committee last week.
“How can you see that to families reeling with the loss, that it’s not the federal government’s responsibility to play a role in solving this problem?” <a href=”https://twitter.com/theJagmeetSingh?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@theJagmeetSingh</a> questions <a href=”https://twitter.com/JustinTrudeau?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@JustinTrudeau</a> about the federal government’s role in improving conditions in longterm care homes. <a href=”https://t.co/BXbvU3wiI7″>pic.twitter.com/BXbvU3wiI7</a>
Vyce also urged the federal government to provide adequate, targeted funding for long-term care through the Canada Health Transfer.
In a testy exchange with reporters in Ottawa today, Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet dismissed the suggestion that the federal government should play anything but a funding role in Quebec’s long-term care homes.
“Let’s be clear. Not only do I not believe that Canada should take control of senior health care, but I believe that Quebec should take control of everything which is presently under Canadian control. I believe Quebec should be independent. It does answer the question,” he said.
Blanchet went on to say that any federal money directed to Quebec to help the province improve the situation in long-term care homes should come without strings attached.
Watch: Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet on long-term care: