More than 80 percent of COVID-19 deaths in Canada are from nursing homes or long term care facilities. Around the world, the percentage of deaths in nursing homes remains high. In nursing homes in Australia, there have been outbreaks in 80 aged care facilities.
Despite warnings that older adults in nursing homes are more vulnerable, older adults have been excluded from pandemic preparedness plans and have been left behind by governments. The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the long standing systemic issues in the aged care sector and the lack of assistance by the government.
Aged care staff have been exposed to COVID-19 and have been furloughed or forced to quarantine, resulting in aged care providers struggling to maintain staffing levels and basic standards of care. Healthy residents are being sent to hospitals even if they do not have COVID-19 since there is inadequate staff to support them. Aged care workers have found themselves overworked and overwhelmed. Some staff members have worked while they exhibited symptoms for COVID-19 because they could not afford to take off work.
The aged care industry is underfunded, unsupported, and fragmented and COVID-19 reveals the importance of supporting the aged care sector to protect the health of older adults. Government officials have excluded nursing home patients from testing policies and nursing homes have been left waiting for PPE equipment. Nursing homes have had to turn to other sources to receive the PPE that they need to protect their residents.
We cannot continue to fail older adults in nursing homes. There must be a universal pandemic plan that includes nursing homes in the conversation so we can learn their needs and struggles.