Ageism contributes to poor care in long-term facilities

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear the disparity of care for residents in long-term care compared to that in hospitals. An indicator of that disparity is the fact that 80 per cent of COVID-19 deaths have been in long-term care homes so far.


I’m avoiding the label of “the elderly” for these residents for reasons I’ll explain later.

The reduced long-term care is not for lack of dedication by workers but for political reasons. Barb Nederpel, President of Hospital Employees’ Union, told me:

“The pandemic has brought the problems in how we treat seniors and those who care for them into sharp focus. Twenty years ago, workers in long-term care earned the same wages and benefits regardless of their employer. Through privatization and contracting out, the BC Liberals forced thousands of these workers into lower paid jobs. Many took second or third jobs to make ends meet. To keep seniors and workers safe during the pandemic, public health officials are limiting workers to single sites and we’ve secured agreement from government to increase those wages back to the industry standard.”

For ideological motives, the BC Liberals argued that private care facilities could operate more efficiently. Privatization created a multi-tiered system where those who could pay more got better treatment.

The trouble with this model is that in this market where there is a labour shortage, workers will go to where they are paid more -leaving places that pay less short-staffed. The residents who call those places home suffer.

Ageism is at the heart of deaths in long-term care homes. The reduction in worker wages reflects the degree that we care about the residents of those facilities. The death of “the elderly” is seen as no big deal. People get old and die. The meme “Boomer Remover” that has been circulating reflects the dark humour of ageism.

To dismiss residents as “the elderly” robs them of their dignity as fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers, brothers and sisters. Let’s call them persons; persons who love and are loved, who laugh and cry, and make a difference in the world. Age should be just one aspect of anyone’s life, not a defining attribute.

Hospitals are relatively well-prepared for the pandemic in contrast to long-term care homes says Rona Ambrose, former Conservative minister of health and minister during the Ebola crisis in 2014:

“Our hospitals are ready. Doctors and nurses have been properly trained and are waiting to be called in for COVID-19 duty. Personal protective equipment is available, and, if not, it’s on its way.

“Meanwhile, caregivers in many long-term care homes are underpaid, lack training and don’t have PPE. How could this have happened when we knew from day one that long-term care homes would be centres of COVID-19 infection? How could we have failed our care-home residents so badly? There are hundreds of these facilities dealing with outbreaks across Canada (Globe and Mail, April 13, 2020).”

Post-pandemic, we will need to reset our values so that workers’ wages coincide with the value that we place on them. It’s too bad that it takes a pandemic for that disconnect to sink in. There has been an outpouring of appreciation for workers who have put their lives on the line to serve us. Let’s back up that appreciation for long-term care workers with a living wage.

Rona Ambrose: the best leader the Conservatives never had

For someone who has been out of federal politics since 2017 and has no intentions for running for leader of the Conservative Party, Rona Ambrose remains popular. Even the minority Liberal government likes a bill she crafted.

Image: The Star

Before she dropped out of the leadership race, she was favoured by core Conservatives over second choice Peter MacKay, 34 to 19 per cent. Even non-Conservatives favoured Ambrose 25 to 21 per cent according to the Angus Reid Institute.

Last week the Liberals reintroduced a bill she crafted while in opposition.

There’s a number of astonishing things about this.

First, her bill probably has a greater chance of being passed by the current Liberal minority government than by the ruling Conservative government that she was a member of.

Former Prime Minister Steven Harper’s tough-on-crime agenda was championed by Justice Minister Vic Toews who later become a judge in Manitoba. Ambrose’s bill, critical of fossilized judges, would not likely have seen the light of day.

Ambrose originally introduced her private members bill in 2017 in response to a number of high profile sexual-assault cases. In one, Alberta Federal Court Justice Robin Camp asked a rape complainant: “Why couldn’t you just keep your knees together?”

Her bill would ensure that all newly appointed provincial superior court judges undergo training in sexual law and social context.

Ambrose’s private member’s bill passed unanimously in the House of Commons in 2017, but died in the Senate last June as Parliament adjourned before the federal election campaign. Now, as a government bill, senators are obligated to treat it expeditiously.

Conservatives are in the awkward position of supporting a Liberal government bill brought forward by one of their own. Opposing it would be unpopular among Conservatives and supporting it could be seen as being in compliance with the Liberals.

This Conservative ambivalence became evident when NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh proposed fast-tracking the bill and some Conservative MPs opposed it. Singh says there is no reason to delay its passing since the house has already approved it in essence.

The Conservative’s response to Ambrose’s bill was tepid. A spokesman for Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said in a tweet that they want to expand the bill to include members of the parole board and parole officers.

Ambrose gave the Conservatives new life as interim leader after their defeat in 2015. Stephen Harper’s icy grip on the throat of the Conservative Party was lifted and MPs began to speak their own minds.

For example, in 2016, Cathy McLeod, Conservative MP for Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo stepped out of her role as Opposition Critic to the Minister of Indigenous Affairs when she introduced a private members bill that would require labeling of codes on all foods and drugs that could be read by smart phones.

With the uninspired race for leader of the Conservatives and the voice of Conservatives represented by the parochial premiers Scott Moe, Jason Kenney and Doug Ford, the party seems doomed for the wilderness. They make the tepid Liberal minority government look impressive.

Canada’s dull but productive minority government could last years.