Dear Premier Blaine Higgs,
As a future social worker, I am writing to you today to ask that you reconsider our approach to long-term care in the province of New Brunswick. It is no secret that New Brunswick has one of the fastest ageing populations in Canada, or that our long-term care sector is woefully unprepared for this trend. Wait lists for nursing homes are growing by the year, leaving hundreds of New Brunswickers living in hospitals.
According to the Coalition for Seniors and Nursing Home Rights, in 2019, there were more than 700 individuals waiting for long-term care in New Brunswick, with 419 people waiting in the hospital. What facilities we do have are overwhelmed with staffing shortages and inadequate support.
In a recent panel on the state of long-term care in Canada, Dr. Albert Banerjee highlighted how care workers had only 45 minutes to get 12 residents out of bed, bathed, toileted, dressed and prepared for the day. These workers remarked that there is just not enough time for them to give the residents the care they deserve and need, fostering dangerous working conditions. Similar concerns were raised when I visited an Alzheimer’s Society support group.
While the precarious nature of long-term care in New Brunswick is a matter of alarm, it is also an opportunity for our province to become leaders. The long-term care crisis provides a unique opening to pursue cutting edge New Brunswick-first innovations in the long-term care sector and cement our province as a leader in Canadian social policy. To become a leader, however, we must first admit that there are flaws.
The task of restructuring long-term care in New Brunswick is a daunting one, as complex problems require complex solutions. I understand that there are limits to what you can accomplish within your term, but I beg of you to ask this question: What will you be remembered more for, your accomplishments or your failures? Will your legacy be your success in maintaining the status quo, or will it be your failure to address a system that is so clearly broken? You might not be able to completely fix long-term care in New Brunswick, but you can be the pioneer that began the process. What’s more, the key to beginning this shift is perhaps simpler than you might believe.
The start of this process, Mr. Higgs, begins with the simple acknowledgment that long-term care is important, that the care of older folk is a top priority of society, and that those who care for such folk deserve a greater quality of life and of work. This acknowledgement must be supported through policy and legislation, such as passing pay equity legislation for the private sector, improving working conditions for long-term care staff, and/or drafting a policy to close the staff-to-resident ratio in long-term care homes.
If we are to transform our long-term care sector into one that allows older adults to thrive, and not just survive, then we must begin by valuing the workers who will make this happen. As COVID-19 repeatedly demonstrates the inhumane and deplorable state of long-term care across Canada, an opportunity has presented itself for New Brunswick to lead the rest of our nation in long-term care.
Will we demonstrate to Canada, and the world, what a comprehensive long-term care sector that values care work looks like? Or will we be remembered as another contributor to the shameful and dehumanizing treatment of older generations and their carers? Mr. Higgs, I beg of you, pick the former, and show the world what happens when we value the care of older adults.
Jordan Grimsely is a social work student at St. Thomas University in Fredericton.