Seniors’ minister ‘hopeful’ coronavirus will be watershed for better treatment for seniors

Canadian Seniors’ Minister Deb Schulte says she is optimistic the coronavirus pandemic will mark a watershed moment for how the country treats elderly Canadians.

In an interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson, Schulte said the government remains committed to a campaign pledge to boost Old Age Security, and shared her own story of losing a loved one in a long-term care home amid the pandemic.

“Are you concerned about seniors’ mental health?” Stephenson also asked.

“Absolutely,” Schulte said.

“Your heart breaks for these folks who are in long-term care homes. It’s emotional for me too, I can see it in your eyes,” said Stephenson.

“I’ll tell you why,” Schulte said. “I had my mother-in-law in a long-term care facility and she passed away in June. So I am totally aware of the challenges that families have had across Canada.”

Schulte added her father-in-law is also in a seniors’ residence and said while her family was able to see her mother-in-law via video chat before her death, she understands how painful it is for partners and families not to be able to be with loved ones in person.

“The challenges that he has with us not being able to see him and the mental health — the strain of him losing his wife, not being able to see her as she deteriorated because we weren’t able to be with her — it is very emotional,” she continued.

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“I’m emotional, too, because I’ve lived it and I hear the stories and I’m on the phone and I got the e-mails and I’m with people every day that are struggling with this issue.”

The federal government announced $3 million in February for funding to connect seniors with mild and moderate dementia with caregivers, and this summer introduced a one-time, lump-sum benefit for vulnerable seniors of between $300 and $500, depending on their circumstances.

And while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has accused the provinces of having “failed to support seniors,” his own government has also faced criticism from seniors’ advocates that it isn’t doing enough.

Roughly 80 per cent of Canadian coronavirus deaths were among individuals in long-term care homes.

The cramped quarters, lack of personal protective equipment and cleaning procedures, and transitory nature of the employment for many who work in the homes have been identified as among the key factors behind the rampage of the virus through the facilities earlier this year.

Canadian military staff were deployed into several facilities in Ontario and Quebec to try to get the situation under control, with a report by members describing horrifying conditions that captured national attention in the midst of the crisis.

Trudeau has said the federal government will heed calls from seniors’ advocates for national standards of care in long-term homes, which are under provincial jurisdiction.

However, premiers like Quebec’s Francois Legault have pushed back on that, accusing the federal government of “playing with fire” by attempting to regulate matters in provincial hands.

Schulte said the government remains committed to creating national standards and still plans to increase Old Age Security, but said the immediate focus during the pandemic was on getting a lump-sum, one-time payment to vulnerable seniors.

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