Hospital transfer workers are seen outside the Lynn Valley Centre care home in North Vancouver, B.C. on April 8, 2020. The longterm care home was among the first in B.C. to record multiple deaths due to COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Canada’s proportion of COVID long-term care deaths double that of other countries: study

LTC residents made up 81 per cent of all reported COVID-19 deaths in the country

A new study finds the proportion of Canadian COVID-19 deaths that have occurred in long-term care facilities is about twice the average of rates from other developed nations.

The analysis released Thursday by the Canadian Institute for Health Information provides a damning snapshot of senior care as of May 25, when LTC residents made up 81 per cent of all reported COVID-19 deaths in the country compared to an average of 42 per cent among all countries studied.

The data compares Canada’s record to that of 16 other countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The proportion of LTC deaths ranged from less than 10 per cent in Slovenia and Hungary to 31 per cent in the United States to 66 per cent in Spain.

At 5,324, the reported number of LTC deaths in Canada was near the average but data varied widely among countries: from 28 in Australia to 30,000 in the U.S., with more than 10,000 in France, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom.

Researchers point to limitations that prevent some comparisons — countries vary in COVID-19 testing and reporting practices, and in their definition of long-term care.

In addition, COVID-19 cases are often under-reported and in the case of Italy, data was available from only 52 per cent of the nursing homes operating in the country.

Nevertheless, Tracy Johnson, CIHI’s director of health systems analysis and emerging issues, says the data offers valuable insight into a tragedy many families, caregivers and residents have been trying to illustrate since the pandemic began.

Johnson notes countries that implemented additional LTC precautions at the same time as standard stay-at-home orders had fewer LTC infections and deaths.

That includes Australia, Austria and Slovenia, which ordered broad LTC testing and training, isolation wards to manage clusters, surge staffing, specialized teams and personal protective equipment.

Johnson says the findings suggest such measures could be key to mitigating the impact of a possible second wave.

But for now, she notes several of Canada’s hardest-hit facilities are still grappling with the devastating fallout of existing infections.

“Even if all of these (measures are instituted) there will be other folks who will die because some people are infected right now, still, and the outbreaks are still ongoing,” she says.

“Some of the control measures though will probably help to at least keep the rates the same as they are.”

READ MORE: Canadian Armed Forces members at risk of COVID-19 while on long-term care duty to get extra pay

The contrast in LTC deaths is even more stark between provinces and territories, says the report, which notes LTC deaths represented more than 70 per cent of all COVID-19 deaths in Quebec, Ontario and Alberta and 97 per cent of all deaths in Nova Scotia.

There were none in Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and the territories at the time of the study. Two LTC residents have since died in New Brunswick.

Dr. Roger Wong, clinical professor of geriatric medicine at the University of British Columbia, says the numbers are “very concerning” and point to long-standing systemic problems that include inadequate staffing and resources and inconsistent standards.

“There needs to be a fundamental reprioritization, focusing attention and resources, time and effort into the sector right away. Because I can tell you that what COVID-19 has shown us in terms of a major lesson is a fragmentation (of) seniors’ care,” Wong says from Vancouver.

“Which means it makes it more difficult for all of us to support our older Canadians with equal and consistent access to the services that are necessary, based on their care needs at their age.”

READ MORE: Liberal MPs call for national standards for long-term care homes

Wong is part of a federal task force working on national recommendations on how best to help LTC homes battle COVID-19.

He says he recently spoke to a Senate standing committee on the topic, drawing on data from June 1 when reports of LTC deaths totalled 6,007, or 82 per cent of deaths.

Wong encourages more specific training in geriatric and palliative care as well as psychiatry. And he suggests it’s time to put provincially-driven long-term care mandates under the Canada Health Act.

“I see the federal government having its role in terms of setting the national standards and benchmarking so that expectations are set (and) no matter which province or territory our older Canadians are living in they can be protected in the same way under that framework,” says Wong.

“(For) individual provinces and territories, it is about implementation of those national, federally set benchmarks and standards.”

The CIHI analysis compared Canada to countries that had sufficient data for reporting: Australia, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusSeniors

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

North Island College launches virtual orientation

New and returning North Island College students are being welcomed to the… Continue reading

Comox Valley artist expands horizons through North Island College’s DIGITAL Design department

Submitted by NIC North Island College alumna Marlee Pestell is breaking into… Continue reading

85-year-old Comox sprinter competes in worldwide virtual track meet

Toronto was slated to be the host city for the 2020 World… Continue reading

B.C. records 146 new COVID-19 cases through long weekend

More that 28 people tested positive for the virus each day since Friday

Two people die in propane heated outdoor shower near Princeton

Couple was attending a long weekend gathering

Study shines light on what makes LGBTQ+ youth feel safe in a community

The study goes beyond looking at school or family supports

Alberta to require masks at schools this fall, but still no mandate in B.C.

B.C. students are also set to return to classrooms in September

B.C. to allow customers to buy cannabis online for in-store pickup at private shops

Age verification will still be required inside the store

30% of British Columbians would ‘wait and see’ before taking COVID vaccine: poll

Some are concerned about side effects, while others don’t think the virus is a big deal

What exactly is ‘old growth’ B.C. forest, and how much is protected?

Forests minister Doug Donaldson doesn’t support ‘moratorium’

Don’t leave your hand sanitizer in the sun and other tips to stay COVID safe this summer

Being mindful of staying outside and keeping hand sanitizer, sunscreen out of the sun recommended

Most Read