Making long-term care homes more 'home-like' among new national recommendations in wake of COVID-19

New national guidelines aimed at improving the quality of life and care for people in nursing homes are now available for public review and feedback.

The release of the recommendations comes as residents face isolation and staff continue to deal with challenges amid outbreaks of COVID-19.

But the proposed guidelines are aimed at making changes beyond the pandemic.

Dr. Samir Sinha, who’s originally from Winnipeg and is now director of geriatrics for Sinai Health in Toronto, said once finalized, the new Long-Term Care Services Standard will be used to assess care homes across the country, including in Manitoba.

“The standard can also become the basis of new legislation, new regulations,” said Dr. Sinha, who’s serving as chair of the technical committee involved in developing the guidelines for the Health Standards Organization.

After public consultations with more than 18,000 Canadians, the new recommendations propose long-term care facilities become more like people’s homes, among several other changes.

“Thousands of Canadians said we want long-term care homes to be like homes, be more home-like and we’re like ‘what does home-like mean to you’ and it was very interesting when you started hearing that further nuance,” Sinha said.

He said the main themes of the new standard reflect what the organization heard from Canadians.

For instance, respondents said when it comes to daily activities they want flexibility, such as breaking down rigid routines related to personal care and mealtimes.

People also said they wanted unrestricted visiting to better enable care home residents to maintain connections, and more activities.

When it comes to their living spaces, participants said low-density structures that are warm and inviting which offer privacy and a personalized living space are all important.

Like nursing homes, the Thorvaldson Care Center’s intermediate care facility in Osborne Village has had to adapt to COVID-19, creating a special room for physically distanced visits.

Despite those challenges, making residents feel like they’re living in a home-like setting remains the goal of the family owned and operated centre.

“The rooms come unfurnished and so the residents here are able to bring in their family members, can bring their own furnishings,” said Jocelyn Thorvaldson, who serves as the centre’s administrator. “So they’re recreating a little piece of the home that they were living in, here.”

When Suzanne Stitt’s now 92-year-old mom Yvette Bonnefoy decided to leave her apartment two years ago, the family found the staff, layout and personalized space at Thorvaldson Care Center to be welcoming.

“Anywhere you go in there, you feel like you’re at home,” Stitt said. “It’s not institutionalized at all.”

Features Stitt hopes her mom would also be able to find in a long-term care home should she ever require an increased level of care.

“I think we would also be looking at something set up similar to where she’s at now,” Stitt said. “It’s just much more comfortable for the residents.”

Reports on the new recommendations noted improvements will require additional funding for wages, equipment, supplies, training for staff and renovating existing or building new infrastructure that can allow residents to have single rooms with private washrooms.

Michelle Porter, director of the University of Manitoba’s Centre on Aging, said in an email the categories in the standards document resonate with needed improvements the Centre on Aging heard in consultations it held last fall.

“In particular, the standards involving coordinating and integrating care are crucial, but are often left out in health system planning,” Porter wrote. “This was highlighted in the Stevenson Report on the tragedy that occurred at the Maples Personal Care Home."

A spokesperson for Manitoba Seniors and Long Term Care said the government’s reviewing the draft recommendations as part of work that’s already underway to modernize personal care homes.

You can have your say on the proposed recommendations here.

The public review will remain open until March 27th.