March 4th, 2024

Laying It Out: Great news, we’re trading seniors for profit

By Medicine Hat News Opinion on May 30, 2020.

Let me see if I have this right…

The good news is only old people are dying, and the vast majority of those old people are in long-term care facilities that I don’t even need to go to. Let’s live it up!

We used to acknowledge the fact that younger people who won’t die can very easily give COVID to older people who could die. But that kind of talk was so two months ago, and it’s really, really nice out, so what are the rest of us supposed to do?

The average age of people dying is 83, and as Premier Jason Kenney reminded us all this week, those people aren’t even supposed to be here anymore. So, to my readers who are on borrowed time, if you don’t mind, Albertans have things to do – like proving to Trudeau the Terrible we are ready to host NHL games that no one can go to.

But before I go wash my Habs jersey, let me say something to the LTC residents of Canada who are still with us.

The COVID-19 death toll in Ontario has now surpassed 2,000, with more than 1,500 of those at long-term care facilities. An analysis by the Ontario Health Coalition in early May, when LTC deaths had reached 1,000, showed 66 per cent occurring in privately operated facilities. Not-for-profits (26%) and public facilities (8%) accounted for the rest.

When the report was released, the death rate in private facilities (9%) was well above non-profits (5.25%) and more than double that of public (3.62%).

Now, here’s the real kicker. While further analysis showed all three categories increasing in number of outbreak facilities, the death rate was climbing fast at for-profit homes, on a slower climb at non-profits and going down significantly at public facilities. In short, more and more people are dying at for-profit care homes, while publicly ran facilities are minimizing the damage of this deadly virus (No, Mr. Premier, this is not “influenza.”)

By now most have seen or heard about the scathing military report on just five of these private homes, which cited several unsafe and unclean practices that have exacerbated deaths to a whopping 225 combined.

Toronto Sun columnist Brian Lilley wrote this week to make sure we all know which members of the Ontario Ministry of Health should be fired for this. While I’m certainly all for government ministers who are awful at their job not being government ministers anymore, he really glossed over the fact that publicly-run facilities have the same bureaucrats to deal with but are clearly better at controlling the spread than their for-profit counterparts. And it isn’t even close.

There have been pockets of talk since the military report was released, calling for the elimination of private seniors’ care, which is as no-brainer as it gets for those who actually care about the people living in these homes. For-profit care homes literally have to make money, and they will clearly do whatever it takes to do it, even if it means lower-quality care for residents.

But isn’t that the case in anything privately delivered? Profit always comes first, while quality of product for the customers is a secondary thought at best.

Press Progress dug into the qualifications of corporate directors at Canada’s four largest for-profit nursing home chains and found that only nine per cent were certified health professionals, while 40 per cent have backgrounds in real estate. Does anyone think they would even understand seniors’ care, let alone worry about it?

No. They understand making money, and that’s the point in all this.

Why do we accept that essential care of human beings is something anyone should make mass amounts of profit off? In Alberta, our United Conservative government is unabashedly trying to privatize as much as the public will allow – addiction services, medical procedures, schooling provision, etc. – and is constantly selling the idea that their goal is offering better service for all.

At what stage of discarding the elderly in a pandemic do we realize that politicians like this are never trying to maximize care for the people? Instead of acknowledging the mounting evidence that a growing number of for-profit care facilities have become downright dangerous, our leaders are trying to pass off LTC deaths as simply being good news for everyone else.

COVID-19 has been no fun for anyone, but it has provided us with an opportunity to change the way we operate our society. We have allowed our leadership to cater to the needs of the corporate rich for far too long, and it’s time the public on both sides of the political spectrum demands it end.

Right now, they’re telling us to ignore the tragedies at LTC facilities and to go back to the way we were living before this began – that it’s basically safe to go back in the proverbial water. And they’re telling us this risk is for our own good, because the economy depends on it.

If LTC residents are expendable in the name of making money, what are the chances that “our own good” has anything to do with the rest of us?

Scott Schmidt is the layout editor for the Medicine Hat News. You can contact him at and follow him on Twitter at @shmitzysays. Scott’s opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the editorial board

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3 years ago

Scott, you do know that Revera, one of Canada’s largest long term care operators is owned by a Canadian Crown Corporation. It is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Public sector investment board.

Jim Faire
Jim Faire
3 years ago

Well, that’s not really all the facts, fd4thought…

Seems that after being bought up by PSIB, they have operated in profit mode… as a private corporation with one shareholder. It seems that they are still getting their socks sued off, for all the practices Scott mentioned.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Revera owns Mackenzie Towne in Calgary, the facility with the highest fatality rate in Alberta, and also owns Forest Heights in Ontario, which has one of the worst staff/resident fatality rates in Ontario.

3 years ago

Regardless of how you spin it, Revera is a government controlled subsidiary. My point is, regardless of ownership or control, these facilities are rife with challenges. Caring for elderly patients with complex medical problems and declining cognition is extremely difficult at the best of times let alone during a pandemic. There can be no doubt some of these facilities were negligent in the extreme, but to suggest that the Alberta government is discarding the elderly for profit is hyperbolic. If, for one moment, we could examine this devoid of emotion, with an understanding that revenue is required to operate both private and public facilities, there could be no argument against reopening business. As well, as insensitive as this may sound, all of us, especially the elderly will die from something. The average age of Alberta’s covid death tally was 83. I suspect that covid was a contributing factor, along with a long list of potential other medical problems. Is it so surprising then that an unknown virus ( one that no one initially fully understood the rate of infection) was able to infiltrate these care facilities?

Jim Faire
Jim Faire
3 years ago

Spin? No, just the truth. ‘Spin’ is trying to say that a Private corporation, with a mandate to maximize shareholder value, is a government controlled subsidiary, when it is merely a fiduciary holding.

Revera is hardly a ‘government controlled’ entity. Just because a pension fund bought all their stock does not mean the pension fund is actively involved in operational decisions. At best, they may exercise their shareholder position to acquire a new CEO. Which they did, hiring a financial and real-estate manager with a Big Pharma background.

Given that initial infections were lowest at government (health-department) run facilities, higher at not-for-profit facilities, and highest at for-profit facilities, there should have been some indication then… but after everybody noticed that something was wrong, the gap widened. Government facilities improved, not-for-profit facilities did better than before, but many of the for-profit facilities actually got worse. That they lost so many staff to COVID-19 should tell you all you need to know.

Lack of PPE, inadequate training, part-time workers paid low wages, and indifference killed those old people. Trying to justify it as “hey grandma, you’ve had a good run” is abhorrent.

3 years ago

I am not justifying the appalling care provided by some extended care facilities. There can be no doubt that many operated under less than ideal conditions. Covid 19 simply brought attention to what has most likely been substandard for years. It is true, we warehouse our elderly. Unlike other cultures most of us do not want the burden of care placed on our shoulders, and so, our seniors, when no longer self sufficient, are placed in care homes. I know I for one would not want the full responsibility nor would I choose to work in a care home regardless of the wage. Would you? And so we have staff shortages, inadequately trained aides, and at times neglect. It is complicated.
I recently read an interesting article by an infectious disease specialist who stated the dates of those deaths in nursing homes were moved up by a month or so. The second and subsequent waves are inevitable and sadly the vulnerable will die. It does sound callous, but that is the reality. Can we as a society do better? Obviously, yes, but that will require a huge paradigm shift. I am not sure the not for profit model will provide the silver bullet you are looking for. Perhaps a more comprehensive accreditation process with frequent inspections would improve care in the for profit facilities. Given current shifts in population demographics, I do not think a purely publically funded model is feasible. Who will pay for it?
What I strongly disagree with is Scott’s insistence that reopening our economy can be interpreted as not caring what happens to our seniors, of which, by the way, I am one. His article is rather confusing as he broaches two subjects in a disordered manner. I think he is advocating for publically funded care homes, while at the same time questioning the timing of Kenney’s relaunch strategy which he suggests is premature and poses a threat to our elderly. I cannot agree.
I will concede ignorance in understanding governance of crown corporations. Thank you for clarifying.