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OPINION: International Day of the Older Adult is October 1


October 1, marks the “International Day of the Older Adult”, established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1990, to counteract ageism, the pervasive discrimination against older people, by calling on all countries to recognize and celebrate the value of older people everywhere. 

Sadly, ageism and ageist attitudes in our society – personal, in organizations and in policy– are alive and well today in Canada. And nowhere is this more evident than in long-term care where ageism paved the way for Canada’s shame – the worst record by far for COVID-19 deaths in long-term care homes (69% of deaths) compared to that of other wealthy countries (an average of 41%).

Although COVID was the cause of so many deaths in long-term care, it was the years of ageist-based policy decisions that created the conditions. The result: more than two decades of decisions to reduce funding for seniors’ programming, cuts to programs, lack of stable staffing with adequate training and outdated physical environments, have eroded quality of care and quality of life for seniors.  All these issues and their impact on residents in long-term care have been well known for many years by decision makers and allowed to continue and even worsen.  That these challenges have remained unaddressed for so many years – despite how they have undermined the quality of care and quality of life for residents and families, and the working conditions for staff – reveal the lack of value placed on older adults living in long-term care. 

Recognition for the pressing need to improve long-term care in Canada was demonstrated by the federal government funding the development of national standards. Disappointingly, failure to mandate or fund the implementation of these standards has led to a stalemate with provinces and territories, reducing the standards to optional guidelines at best. Genuine commitment to improving residents’ care and quality of life would mean that national standards are adopted across the country with funding linked to their implementation. Our governments must do better.

The devaluing and dehumanizing of older adults is reflected in policy decisions that have turned long-term care residents into commodities on the international stock market and have fueled “business” decisions over care. Inadequate monitoring of public monies provided for care have enabled for-profit care facilities to cut staff, hours of care, recreation and other resident-focussed programs, food, and housekeeping in favour of shareholder profit. Astonishingly, the profits of these facilities reached record heights during the pandemic while residents languished, and families were powerless, and grief stricken looking in from the outside. Since then the Seniors Advocate of BC reports that profits have continued to rise in for-profit homes while the number of direct care hours per resident they provide, have continued to decline.

COVID has made the public aware that the long-term care system is broken and about the domino effect of ageist policies on the wellbeing, care, and quality of life of residents and on those who care about and for them. Numerous surveys have shown that most people do not now believe that they would be well cared for if admitted to long-term care and dread that possibility. This is shameful and must change.

Here in British Columbia, ARRC (Action for Reform of Residential Care), a citizen’s group supported by families, care providers, unions, seniors’ organizations, and researchers, who together have extensive in-depth experience of long-term care, is demanding a complete reform of the long-term care system with the goal of improved quality of care and quality of life for residents. 

ARRC is calling upon the public to demand that our government, with input from residents, families, and those who provide or are concerned about care, examine the impact of ageist policies, practices, and attitudes on the quality of life of seniors in our long-term care system.  Additionally, we demand that the government address these issues, prioritizing quality of life, through appropriate regulations, effective monitoring, and sufficient funding, and by empowering and supporting families and family councils to advocate for residents’ well being.

We all, seniors and seniors-to-be, can join ARRC’s campaign to tell the Minister of Health and our MLAs that they must, in collaboration with an advisory forum made up of residents, families, care providers, seniors and researchers, develop and implement a comprehensive action plan for the long-term care system that facilitates resident quality of care and quality of life.

Penny McCourt, MSW, PhD

Action for Reform of Residential Care (ARRC) BC

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