Canada has been ranked as the worst country in the world for the rate of COVID-19 deaths that occurred among residents of aged care homes.

So dire is the situation within Canadian aged care homes, the government has called in the army to help.

“We shouldn’t have soldiers taking care of seniors,” observed Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. Canada’s aged care system has been “failing” it’s elderly citizens, he said.

“In the weeks and months to come, we will all have to ask tough questions about how it came to this,” he warned.

A new report begins to answer some of those questions, comparing the measures taken by aged care facilities around the world to protect elderly people living in residential care.

The study compares COVID-19 responses in 16 OECD countries, including Australia, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Canada’s mortality rate average

As of 25 May 25 2020, Canada had 5,324 deaths in long-term care (LTC, as residential care is called in Canada). This compares with 28 deaths in Australia (now 29), 30,000 in the United States, and more than 10,000 in France, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom. 

While Canada’s overall mortality rate was close to the OECD average, the nation’s proportion of deaths that occurred in LTC was the highest in the world at 81 per cent.

By comparison, the proportion of overall deaths was less than 10 per cent in Slovenia and Hungary, and 66 per cent in Spain. The OECD average was 42 per cent.

Percentage of all COVID-19 deaths in long-term care

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Source: Canada Institute for Health Information.

The strategy mix that appears to protect aged care residents

The report reveals countries – including Australia – that put in place “specific, mandatory” prevention measures for the aged care sector, while at the same time had stay-at-home orders and closed public places, had fewer COVID-19 infections and deaths in LTC. 

Prevention measures implemented within aged care homes included: 

  • broad testing, 
  • training, 
  • access to isolation wards to manage clusters, 
  • access to surge staffing, 
  • specialized care teams, and 
  • adequate supplies of personal protective equipment.

By comparison, Canada’s only policy responses have been stay-at-home orders, economic stimulus and additional funding for acute care needs.

Impact of COVID-19 on LTC residents by level of policy response at the time of 1,000 COVID-19 cases

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Source: Canada Institute for Health Information.

Canada’s low staff-to-resident ratios

The researchers made a number of observations about Canada’s LTC sector that could have contributed to the high death rate in residential care.

  • The proportion of seniors (aged 65 and older) living in LTC is higher in Canada than it is in the average of OECD countries. 
  • Canada’s LTC population tends to be older than the OECD average, with 74 per cent of residents over the age of 80.
  • Canada had fewer health care workers per 100 residents, compared with the OECD average.

The researchers noted that comparisons between different countries should be interpreted with “extreme caution” due to “rapidly evolving” infection numbers, different definitions of residential care, and variations in COVID-19 testing and reporting practices.

Nevertheless, the findings are alarming for Canadians, and rings a cautionary note for the rest of the world still grappling with the deadly virus.

“This report confirms what we all suspected: Canada is not taking care of our seniors as it should be,” observed Mr Trudeau.

 

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