Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on February 8, 2021.

Some of my dearest early childhood memories have to do with my maternal grandparents who lived in a separate suite in the home I grew up in. My grandmother passed away when I was six and my grandfather three years later. I missed them terribly since.  

There were other multigenerational families living in the neighbourhood, and some of the older residents were empty-nesters, but in my mind, they are all ‘grandparents’ and an integral part of the proverbial village raising the children.

They imparted fascinating knowledge, they tinkered in ways that could entrap a child’s attention for hours and then they always had some yummy treats to offer, mostly homemade goodies or fruit from their garden.  

It meant the world to grow up with grandparents and other older people around. For my parents too, as they were so often seeking advice from them in matters of life lived. There was a sense of balance that just made sense.

Most of all, there was this unsaid but ever-present truth: people do not become disposable as they age.

It pains me to no end to read about the many outbreaks in care homes across the province and the country. A recent article emphasized that outbreaks occurred more in for-profit homes in B.C. which, needless to say, adds more grief to a situation that’s already bad.

The first wave came and went, and it ravaged nursing homes to a degree that, should we see it happen in other countries, we’d be qualifying it as unacceptable.

It took a Canadian military operation that provided help to some of the hardest hit care homes for seniors in Ontario to have the reality exposed – one that was so shocking it rattled the country. More similar reports followed.

If it wasn’t for the high risk of contracting COVID-19 by the military personnel, which many did during that time, it would almost make sense to have them go into all the long-term care facilities across the country as objective observers and provide an accurate report of the reality they encounter in each of them.

No matter who ends up doing it, repeated and thorough inspections of each facility should be have been the norm after seeing the devastation the first wave brought. Also, I am not talking about planned-ahead, ‘get ready, we’re coming to see how you’re doing’ kind of inspection but dropping in for a most accurate account of what residents go through.

Back to the issue of for-profit nursing homes and COVID-19 outbreaks. To be fair, some did better than others.

But there is no excuse for paying their employees less – almost 30 percent below the industry standard or spending 24 percent less per resident. After all, if you’re in the business of providing care for seniors, you have to do it properly. Residents pay big money to be offered decent care and they trust they will. Also, if a facility is operated properly, that includes making sure that supplies such as PPE are available, more so when there’s rumours of a pandemic. It’s part of the care package.

I am assuming that stakeholders decide funds, supplies and wages, are being administered but somehow that model does not make a lot of sense when lives are at stake. Money should never come before people’s well-being. Things can get worse yet when such facilities are owned by foreigners.

The ongoing pandemic has revealed a grim reality in Canada. That the elderly need better care which many do not have now. While residents in government-run and not-for profit facilities were shown to be better cared for, we need to see more being done across the board.

To be clear, the pandemic did not create the horrible reality so many facilities have been faced with; it simply pushed a deficit of care into view. Sadly, this has come at the enormous price of lives lost.

What now? 

We need to see an increased level of scrutiny through ad-hoc inspections and fully transparent reports of the findings, we need to see changes implemented when the reports call for it and we need to see that efforts are being made to reduce the high turnover rates among staff.

Bottom line: we need to see well-being and dignity reinstated for the Canadian elderly.