The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the precarious living conditions of the elderly in nursing homes in Canada.
According to the Canadian Institute of Health Information, during the first wave of the pandemic, from March to August 2020, more than 80 percent of Canada’s COVID-19 deaths were linked to nursing and senior citizens’ homes.
The pandemic has put nursing homes in the limelight in terms of how they are managed, the shortage of their staff and the impact of COVID-19 on the living conditions of the dependent elderly living within them.
Media coverage of COVID-19 and the crisis in long-term care has raised public awareness of the risks associated with such facilities. It can also permanently affect perceptions and preferences when it comes to long-term care.
In the fall of 2020, we partnered with Asking Canadian, a Canadian online panel survey organization, to survey more than 3,000 people between the ages of 50 and 69 in Ontario and Quebec. The goal was to find out how the pandemic had affected his views on long-term care.
The survey asked questions about long-term care preferences and whether respondents were more supportive of home care due to COVID-19.
Most Nursing Homes Want to Avoid
The survey shows that the pandemic has dramatically changed the perceptions, preferences and ultimately the financial behavior of Canadians when it comes to long-term care.
A full 72 percent of our respondents said they were unwilling to enter nursing homes, and 70 percent of them said the pandemic caused them serious concern about the risk of health risks in long-term care facilities.
Also, about 25 per cent said they plan to save more for old age due to COVID-19 and wish to avoid entering nursing homes in favor of home care.
Finally, we saw strong support for a tax policy that would subsidize home care, with 70 percent of respondents demanding it. This increased support for home-care policies in the post-pandemic era is driven by a desire to avoid entering nursing homes.
In its essence, our study shows that the COVID-19 pandemic has left Canadians fearful of substandard living conditions in nursing homes and made them realize the urgency to find adequate care options and solutions for our elderly population. We can only hope that policy makers use this opportunity to address this issue.
global population is aging
The findings of our survey provide important information for any country with an aging population and increasing health needs. According to a study by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the number of people aged 80 and older is expected to increase from four percent of the total OECD population in 2010 to 10 percent in 2050.
Canada is not free from this trend. The number of people in Quebec needing help with activities of daily living is expected to increase from about 315,000 in 2020 to more than 600,000 in 2050.
COVID-19 has prompted both policy-makers and the population in general to think about alternative solutions to nursing home care, particularly home care. But home care is expensive, even when government subsidies are present – much higher than public nursing home care.
And for those who do not have family members who can provide informal care, public long-term care homes are often their only choice.
The pandemic has forced society to question the appeal and spending of home care versus long-term care facilities. Canadians who want to opt for home care will need to start saving for retirement if they become dependent and want to avoid a nursing home.
Read more: After COVID-19’s tragic toll, Canada must improve quality of life in long-term care homes
Policy-makers should also develop adequate long-term care standards to ensure that a deadly disaster that occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic does not reoccur. This will require building and adequately staffing new, safe nursing homes, training long-term care workers in safety and hygiene protocols, and paying them better wages.
But our survey shows that Canadians will increasingly prefer home care options as they age. Governments should make home care a viable option for their older citizens through various means including subsidies and tax exemptions.