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A paramedic arrives at the Laurier Manor, a long-term care facility experiencing an outbreak of COVID-19, in Ottawa, on April 26, 2020.

Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

The Canadian Labour Congress is calling for an overhaul of the country’s long-term care facilities, saying they must be taken out of the hands of private operators to avoid the tragic loss of life experienced during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

CLC president Hassan Yussuff said the fact that the vast majority of the 4,280 Canadians who have died from COVID-19 lived or worked in long-term care facilities should be a wake-up call for all governments.

“Governments can no longer ignore the reality of what seniors are living in and the conditions in which the workers have had to perform their jobs with inadequate pay and how badly these homes have been managed,” he said in an interview on Friday.

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“Reform is critical because otherwise all these people who have died have died for no good reason. If changes don’t come, the families will see a sense of betrayal.”

According to the National Institute of Ageing at Ryerson University in Toronto, 82 per cent of COVID-19 deaths in Canada were connected to long-term care homes. On Thursday, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam also said that about 81 per cent of deaths are linked to long-term care facilities.

“The bottom line is that these owners are not in it to provide care. They are in it to make money," Mr. Yussuff said. “Looking at the service we are seeing right now, nobody in their right mind would want to go into long-term care.”

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The CLC, under Mr. Yussuff’s leadership, is sending a draft policy document to Ottawa and the provinces that criticizes the conditions of care in many long-term facilities as being unacceptable in a country as wealthy as Canada.

“The pandemic has revealed the brutal consequences of chronic and systematic funding cuts, privatization and under-investment in staff,” the CLC said in its paper. “Long-term care must be brought fully into the public system and regulated according to the principles set out in the Canada Health Act.”

Unlike hospitals or doctor visits, long-term care is currently not a core, publicly insured service under the Canada Health Act, and is not subject to federal statutes and regulations, the CLC said.

Instead, the sector is governed by a patchwork of provincial and territorial legislation, policies and regulations. Each jurisdiction provides a range of services at different costs. The CLC said this has led to inconsistency in the level and quality of care provided, how facilities are managed and how ownership is regulated across the country.

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Although health is a provincial responsibility, the CLC said the federal government must lead a process to harmonize the patchwork system and set national standards of care in seniors homes.

“Remove private for-profit business from the long-term care sector. The care of elderly and vulnerable people is far too important to be an opportunity for private enrichment,” the CLC said.

“At facilities led by managers and owners looking after the bottom line, not the well-being of vulnerable residents, workers are struggling with low pay and inadequate time and resources. This directly impacts the quality of care they are able to provide,” the CLC said.

Governments must also ensure that staff at long-term care facilities are properly trained, provided with health and safety equipment and paid decent salaries, the CLC said.

Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said it’s been known for years by all levels of government that for-profit long-term care homes were cutting corners to maximize profits.

“The federal government must put an end to the neglect felt by seniors in these centres and must work with provinces to develop national standards, a Care Guarantee, for long-term and home care like the Canada Health Act to protect our aging parents,” he said.

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