Making a set of improvements to Canada’s long-term care system in response to the pandemic would require $13.7-billion in new annual spending, according to a report from the Parliamentary Budget Officer.
That figure includes new money for clearing waiting lists for beds in long-term care homes, adding more hours of care per bed, and increasing wages paid to workers.
The budget officer’s report, released Wednesday, says Canada’s provinces and territories currently allocate a total of $13.6-billion, largely their own funds, to facilities-based long-term care for seniors each year. The federal government provides indirect financial support through the Canada Health Transfer.
The report was prepared at the request of Paul Manly, the Green MP for Nanaimo-Ladysmith. It analyzes the costs of implementing M-77, a private member’s motion Mr. Manly presented in March.
The motion calls for a number of changes to Canada’s long-term care system, all aimed at resolving what it calls it a “humanitarian crisis” in Canadian long-term care homes, where thousands of elderly residents died of COVID-19.
The current level of spending provides facilities-based long-term care – meaning care provided in residential facilities, rather than in a patient’s home – to about 205,000 seniors. But the report says there are still 52,000 people on waiting lists.
The budget officer describes Mr. Manly’s motion as proposing “several financially significant” changes to long-term care for seniors, including providing a minimum of four hours of care per resident each day – up from the current average of three hours – and guaranteeing basic long-term care to everyone who needs it.
The $13.7-billion in new annual spending outlined by the budget officer would consist of an $8.5-billion increase in spending on facilities-based care for seniors, and a $5.2-billion increase in spending on home care.
The cost would increase at a rate of 4.1 per cent each year as a result of increasing demand for care and rising wages, the report says.
Mr. Manly’s motion also calls for long-term care staff to be paid “adequately” for their work, and for them to receive benefits and paid sick leave. The report says this would require increasing the average pay and benefits of employees of private long-term care providers to match those of providers at public-sector care homes.
Implementing that change, the report says, would mean increasing the average wages of workers in private long-term care homes by 15 per cent, from $21.78 an hour to $25.02 an hour, resulting in a $1.1-billion annual increase in the overall cost of the long-term care system.
“When you’re asking for government programs, you need to know how much it is going to cost, and where those costs are going to go,” Mr. Manly said in an interview. “I think the report is fairly clear about what the costs are and where that money needs to be spent.”
Federal NDP health critic Don Davies said in a statement that the report makes it clear that there must be serious investment from all levels of government in long-term care.
“The federal Liberal government should help fund these changes through the Canada Health Transfer immediately,” Mr. Davies said.
In a statement, Scott Bardsley, a spokesperson for Seniors Minister Deb Schulte, said the Liberal government has worked with provinces and territories on issues around long-term care, including some of the items raised in the budget officer’s report.
“We provided support for infection prevention, higher staff wages, rapid tests, PPE, coaching on best practices and infrastructure improvements,” the statement said.
The statement also noted that several proposals in Mr. Manly’s motion are the responsibility of provinces and territories. “From the outset, we have been clear that we respect their jurisdiction over long-term care,” it said.
In the most recent federal budget, the government promised $3-billion over five years to support provinces and territories in managing long-term care.
Know what is happening in the halls of power with the day’s top political headlines and commentary as selected by Globe editors (subscribers only). Sign up today.