CHARLOTTETOWN, PEI — Many Islanders end up in nursing homes prematurely due to a lack of community support, which may explain why PEI residents spend, on average, twice as long in nursing homes as other Canadians.
“We should do everything we can to avoid getting a person to the point where the only alternative is a nursing home,” Cecil Villard, executive director of the PEI Association of Community Long-Term Care, told a responsible for health and social development. committee on June 8.
One of those options is a community care home, but Villard said there are currently three main issues facing community care: financial admission requirements, staffing and divided government oversight.
Levels of care
Community-based long-term care accommodates seniors assessed at Levels 1, 2 and 3 of the Seniors Assessment and Screening Tool. Seniors rated at Levels 4 and 5 are best suited for a nursing home.
Nursing homes are the most expensive care option, and due to the institutional nature of the facilities, the residents’ quality of life decreases. However, older people at the bottom of the rating scale end up in nursing homes when they have nowhere to go.
The number of seniors is expected to double over the next 25 years, Villard said.
“This is the most predictable cohort within our society when it comes to predicting what demographic trends will be,” Villard said. “And yet, trying to get long-term planning for this population is a tall order.”
Community care falls under two different departments. Regulatory oversight falls under Health and Wellness, while Social Development and Housing handles finance. This divided leadership makes operations like staffing difficult, Villard said.
An outdated financial component can be a barrier for residents wanting to transition to community care, Villard said.
The Long-Term Care Reform Bill 2017 meant that care homes would only consider the potential resident’s taxable income from their tax return.
But, to be considered for community care, the resident’s taxable income and assets must be included in the application.
The province would then bill the resident’s estate for their stay in community care upon their death, Villard said.
“There is absolutely no minimum standard of training required to work in community care. I believe this is seriously problematic,” Villard told the committee. “I really believe this is something that really needs to be addressed.”
He said that with full long-term care beds, community care has sometimes been asked to deal with residents with higher needs.
“And there’s no one in these facilities with a medical background,” he said.
All that’s required to work in community care are two references, a criminal record check and a vulnerable sector check, Villard said.
However, despite a low barrier to employment, there is still a lack of employees entering the industry.
Additionally, community care homes have been without a provincial government contract since May 2021.
Delaying contract negotiations also delays discussions on staff salaries, Villard said.
MP Michelle Beaton told the June 8 committee: “It’s not respectful to workers. …They constantly feel underappreciated.
Villard worked to secure a unique four-month training course in late 2021 from Skills PEI for community care workers. He said he had been well received by staff and facility managers as he provided, among other things, information on older people and aging.