Alarming new report on COVID-19 deaths in long-term care reinforces CanAge’s calls for change

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CIHI (Canadian Institute for Health Information) and the National Institute on Ageing (NIA) have released an urgent new report detailing the fatal impact of the first and second waves of COVID-19 on seniors in Canadian long-term care homes. The report, entitled The Impact of COVID-19 on Long-Term Care in Canada: Focus on the First 6 Months presents new data measuring Canada’s response in protecting vulnerable residents in nursing homes, as well as a comparison to that of other countries across the globe.

Among the findings is sobering evidence that Canada has suffered a shockingly higher proportion of deaths in long-term care (69%) than the international average (41%)—a reaffirming validation of the urgent calls for change put forth in CanAge’s policy roadmap, VOICES: A Roadmap to an Age-Inclusive Canada.’

Alarmingly, the report points to the second wave taking an even harsher toll than the first, leaving us extremely worried about the potentially disastrous ramifications of the imminent third wave that has already started across the country.

“The findings in the new report are alarming but, unfortunately, not surprising,” says Laura Tamblyn Watts, CEO of CanAge. “We’ve been making strong recommendations to governments across the country for systemic change to prevent further loss of life among our most vulnerable older population in long-term care since the onset of the pandemic.” She goes on to warn that, “This is just one more piece of evidence on a long list that confirms the need for governments to take immediate action as we enter the third wave of COVID-19.”

Other noteworthy findings in the report include:

  • There are many consistent findings and recommendations across all formal reviews and inspections of long-term care’s response to COVID-19 (in other words, we all know what the problems are!)
  • Between March 1, 2020, and February 15, 2021, more than 2,500 care homes across the country experienced a COVID-19 outbreak, resulting in the deaths of over 14,000 residents and close to 30 staff. This represents more than two-thirds of Canada’s overall COVID-19 deaths.
  • About 80,000 residents and staff of LTC and retirement homes have been infected, representing 10% of all COVID-19 cases in Canada. 
  • The second wave saw more homes experiencing outbreaks, a 62% increase in the number of residents infected with COVID-19 and a higher number of resident deaths (compared with the first wave)
  • Deaths have varied substantially between provinces and territories and between pandemic waves
  • In the second wave, despite much greater community spread of COVID-19 compared with the first wave, some provinces managed to reduce deaths in LTC and retirement homes (Nova Scotia and Quebec), while the Western provinces all faced large increases in deaths.
  • The largest increase in deaths from all causes occurred in April 2020. During the peak of the first wave, Ontario experienced the largest increase in excess deaths (28%), while British Columbia experienced the smallest (4%)
  • Nearly 1 in 3 Canadian LTC homes experienced an outbreak during the first wave 
  • Fewer physician and family visits in LTC homes during the first wave
  • Hospitalized residents wait longer to be discharged back to their LTC homes

CanAge’s action plan to safeguard seniors in long-term care includes:

  • A National Standard of Long-term Care Tied to Federal Funding
  • COVID-19 Infection Control Standards
  • Improved Staffing Levels
  • Greater Mix of Professional Skill Sets
  • Building More Long-Term Care Homes
  • Building More Smaller Residences, Dementia Villages, and Streamlining Campus of Care Regulation
  • Retrofitting Older Homes with Single or Couples Rooms with En Suite Bathrooms
  • Rural, Remote, Northern, and Indigenous Long-Term Care
  • Emotion-Focused Care
  • Keeping Couples or Companions Together
  • Digital Investment to Reduce Isolation among Residents 

These recommendations have been, and continue to be, presented to governments. They come from our comprehensive policy platform, ‘VOICES: A Roadmap to an Age-Inclusive Canada’.

On behalf of our members, we promise to keep pressuring governments across Canada to take the necessary steps to curb the ongoing impact of COVID-19 on older people in long-term care.


Canada’s National Seniors’ Advocacy Organization

Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work
University of Toronto

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