Campaign for National Standards for Long-Term Care Homes Reaches Parliament Hill

Melissa Miller screenshot from speech outside parliament

Congratulations and thanks to our Partner Melissa Miller and the volunteer group Canadians 4 National LTC Standards who demonstrated on Parliament Hill in support of coordinated national long-term care standards on November 19, 2020.

Canadians 4 National LTC Standards is a grassroots initiative that brings together bereaved relatives, healthcare workers, politicians, and other community members to demand that provincial leaders work with the federal government to implement meaningful change in the long-term care industry. Melissa has represented many families who have suffered losses as a result of nursing home negligence, and is a long-time advocate for systemic improvement in living standards for vulnerable residents.

The ‘Broken Hearts, Empty Shoes’ event was live-streamed on Facebook and Instagram and can be viewed in its entirety here. It featured heartfelt testimony from Cathy Parkes whose father died alone and helpless in a nursing home in April as well as impassioned pleas from PSWs and nurses calling for safer working conditions and more compassionate care for their vulnerable patients. Speakers appeared in front of an eye-catching display of 2,000 pairs of shoes laid out on the grass; each pair of shoes representing four elderly long-term care home residents who died in 2020 of COVID-related causes.

Melissa Miller spoke movingly of her own fears for the health and safety of family members and of the “horror stories” she reads in investigative reports and medical records related to deaths in nursing homes. Declaring that “the system failed,” Melissa called for a paradigm shift in societal attitudes toward the elderly, and for meaningful changes to industry standards so that both residents and the healthcare workers who care for them can be treated with the dignity and respect that they deserve.

Speakers called attention to the long-standing deficiencies of the long-term care system and stressed the need for immediate action in the face of the second wave of rising COVID-19 infections in much of Canada. As Melissa declared in her appeal to viewers, “The time is now. We must collectively stand up for the most vulnerable – they need you!”

For those who want to learn more or to add their voices to the call for coordinated national long-term care standards, there are several ways to help:

  • Join the Canadians 4 National LTC Standards Facebook page to learn about the group’s ongoing efforts to encourage provincial and territorial leaders to work with the federal government to implement measurable standards.
  • Write to your local Member of Parliament and provincial or territorial representative to tell them you demand more and better care now.
  • Engage with federal and provincial health coalitions to stay current with media, research and policy reports.
  • Raise public awareness by sharing your stories and knowledge with your friends, families and others in your community and when doing so on social media, use the hashtags #Canadians4LTCStandards and #CanadiensExigentNormesSLD.

Transcripts of Cathy’s and Melissa’s speeches:

Cathy Parkes, Speaking at the Broken Hearts, Empty Shoes Demonstration (Ottawa, November 19, 2020)

Thank you Fred, and thank you thank you for allowing us to be here today.

As a Canadian who has lost a lost a loved one this year due to neglect in long-term care I feel that my path forward and my reason for being here is clear. Through the sadness of the past several months I’ve had the opportunity to hear stories similar to mine from family members across the country. Our stories may differ in detail but the common thread of neglect, abuse and loneliness never seems to lose its impact.

Those of us who have lost loved ones this year have spent so much time grieving as one would normally do but we’ve also been dealing with the aftermath of a system gone so horribly wrong. The mental anguish that accompanies our loss has only been increased by circumstances that were out of our control.

It may be timely to focus on the thousands of families across the country who have been impacted by COVID-19 in our long-term care homes this year, but when we look at the true impact of our long-term care systems over the decades it’s heartbreaking to think that millions of lives have been affected by what we have allowed to go on for far too long.

Our country has heard the brave stories from families for months but throughout there has been a collective voice that has been silenced. There are those we need to hear from, those whose experiences have left them mentally anguished and heartbroken as well.

This is why it’s my privilege today to share with you the voice of two Canadian PSWs who are brave enough to speak and who want you to hear what they have to say.

The first person says:

“As long as I’ve been working in long-term care it has always been short staffed short staffed, it has become normal. COVID-19  has exposed the cracks in long-term care, cracks that PSWs have been trying to highlight for many years. The pandemic made the shortcomings worse as procedures changed by the minute and we were just struggling to keep afloat.

What we see in long-term care is institutional living. Our residents are aging and instead of living their golden years being happy with the care and comfort they need, they are having to live by waiting.

I want to say that I have many, many wonderful residents who treat me like I’m one of the family. You can’t help but bond with your residents; you see them almost every day, you know their families and they know you. The banter and the friendships are genuine. You know their habits, what they like and what they don’t like. You become a part of their lives. When they are gone they take a piece of you with them and you grieve because you have loved them.

PSWs speak out for each other and our residents, but it doesn’t seem to make a difference. We make recommendations and suggestions, we get angry and we push back but the answer is always “Where will the money come from?” The reply infers that we should stop asking because we aren’t going to get what we’re asking for. Being afraid to speak up isn’t the problem, the problem is that when we do, we just aren’t being heard.

Every day we risk our lives and those of our families by going into work. We work in prime conditions to contract and spread COVID-19. Being a PSW right now is terrifying and I don’t think anyone is doing anything to protect us.

We’re losing our skilled and highly qualified PSWs. They’re leaving for better-paying jobs which leaves us taking anyone willing to work in long-term care. Lack of training and preparedness for this job then causes a massive revolving door. We cannot seem to keep anyone long enough in long-term care to sustain the sector.

My story as a PSW is the same as many out there, the constant struggle to be heard to advocate for my residents co-workers and myself. I beg you to hear me, listen to our hearts when we say we need help, we are burned out and trying our best to hold on.

It’s not for us alone but for the residents that need us and for our families that we leave every day to provide for. We need to fix long-term care. The bottom line cannot be profit driven. Do the right thing, help us take care of the many men and women who have served and made Canada the country that it is today.”

The second PSW, I posed two questions to: What could your home have done better? She replies in the beginning they should have provided staff with PPE. It took too long for management to provide the PPE needed. Once it was provided the issues calmed down but at present time we still do not have enough PPE.

The second question I asked her is: What was it like for you? What is it like for you as a PSW worker in a nursing home during this pandemic? Her reply is, “It is hell. It’s hell. Working in a nursing home… it’s awful, it’s terrible. Every morning when we go into work you hear of someone else who’s died. During your shift you hear of another two or three residents who have passed away. It’s stressful also that we have to prepare the bodies and bring them out to the paramedics. They won’t come into the home. That has been difficult.

And there’s just been so many deaths every day, I haven’t gotten over that. It’s very emotional and very stressful, especially knowing when you might be the next person who could end up in the ICU. I don’t talk about it much but it rests on my mind all the time. It has affected me very badly because one of my close friends and colleagues contracted COVID-19 from working in the home. She was in ICU for a long time on a ventilator and we didn’t know if she would survive.

What people don’t know is the tremendous guilt that we feel every day knowing we might be the ones spreading the virus to the people that we care so much about.”

In reading these comments it struck me how many similarities there are between family members and long-term care staff. We all want what’s best for our loved ones. We all see the need for change. We all have grieved the losses that are so unnecessary. We are all struggling with the weight of mental anguish that this year and the decades prior have brought.

We all agree that national standards need to be implemented for long-term care. We need accountability. As well, we look to our provincial, territorial and federal governments to make this a reality.

Thank you.

Melissa Miller, Speaking at the Broken Hearts, Empty Shoes Demonstration (Ottawa, November 19, 2020)

I am beyond moved to be here at our nation’s capital knowing all of you are watching, supporting and standing here among the presence of those we’ve lost.

I’m here as a lawyer who represents families across Canada that seek justice and accountability as a result of abuse and neglect in long-term care homes. But I am also very personally connected to why we are here today.

I have a grandmother in a long-term care home and I have another who I lost. She was my best friend and my soul mate. Seniors have always had a special place in my life. These are the people who fought for our freedom, sought refuge in Canada after enduring war and conflict, built the foundation of our country, offer wisdom, raised us, loved us, nurtured us when we needed them, and now they need us.

My clients have told me over and over that until you get thrown into the complex web of red tape and hurdles that is long-term care you don’t realize how complicated and broken it is. I came to this realization after speaking with countless families who told me horror stories about the treatment of their loved ones and then reading investigation reports and medical records documenting that horror.

The worst part though is hearing from my clients how guilty they feel. Guilt for putting their loved one in a home in the first place, guilt for trusting that someone else could do for their loved one what they no longer could, and guilt for having them suffer needlessly – and that guilt never goes away.

And now the pandemic has intensified and transformed this already complex web into a national emergency, one that is now familiar to every Canadian. We have all heard the horror stories of people starving to death, dying from dehydration, living in their own filth and of course contracting COVID-19 which led to respiratory failure, pneumonia and the death of over 8 000 people in Canada – residents of long-term care homes.

When you look around you, these 2 000 pairs of shoes, that’s one pair of shoes for every four people that have died in a long-term care home in Canada. Long-term care residents represent approximately eighty percent of all of COVID 19 deaths in Canada. 80 percent.

We are here because we allowed COVID-19 to ravage long-term care homes across the country. COVID-19 undermined the safety of long-term care residents and staff alike. The system failed the front line workers who staff these homes and are working in impossible conditions, as you’ve heard. They are overburdened, under-trained, and lack the necessary resources to do the job safely and in many cases meaningfully.

We have seen that residents are left unfed, unbathed, unchanged, and without any meaningful human interaction. And while the country became aware of this reality as a result of the pandemic, these issues long preceded it. We heard the bell ring around the world early this year as COVID-19 was spreading –  when we heard that seniors were the most impacted by this virus.

I was hit with a wave of terror. I knew what was coming and I knew that our long-term care system couldn’t handle it. As a citizen I watched helplessly along with the rest of the nation as the system failed miserably and here we are in a second wave watching it happen all over again. As a lawyer and advocate I find this unacceptable and this is why I’m here with these courageous supporters, volunteers, and allies, and you watching at home, to fight for change.

Despite lessons learned from the first wave, we still haven’t seen any meaningful improvements that ensure the safety and dignity of our seniors. What’s worse is that families have been crying out for years, decades even, about the mistreatment of their loved ones. In addition to this, staff have been asking for better compensation, better working conditions, and more government support.

How can a long-term care system that was barely hanging on by a thread before this pandemic possibly get through this second wave unscathed? It can’t and people are dying because of it.

Somewhere along the line, as a society, we lost sight of our responsibility to seniors. Somewhere along the line, society made them disposable. This is unacceptable and unconscionable. We need a paradigm shift in this regard: a shift towards caring for our most vulnerable with the dignity, respect, and the love that they deserve – to live out their days in an environment where those who care for them are also treated with dignity and respect and provided with the resources they need to offer meaningful care.

Long-term care homes are exactly that – homes. We would not accept anything less than the best care for our families in our own homes. That same standard ought to exist in our long-term care homes, and that standard should exist across Canada.

That’s why we’re all here to tell our federal government that we support the move to creating national standards for long-term care across Canada and to call upon our provinces and territories to work with the federal government to ensure that those national standards are held to account.

So I’m calling on all of you write to your MP and MPP, to tell them you demand more and better care now. Second, learn about these issues by engaging with your provincial and federal health coalitions and staying current with news media research and policy reports. And third, share your stories and knowledge with community members, grassroots agencies and loved ones.

The time is now. We must collectively stand up for the most vulnerable – they need you. Thank you

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