The past two years tested Canada’s health systems and the people working in them to the limit. We learned how to innovate fast. High profile innovations like virtual care and vaccines emerged when other options simply weren’t available. And sharing ingenious emerging solutions has also been essential to address new challenges, including in long-term care (LTC).
The pandemic has had a profound impact on those who live and work in long-term care, and their families. Care home residents accounted for more than two-thirds of Canada’s COVID-19 deaths between March 1, 2020 and February 15, 2021. Harm in long-term care rapidly became the single biggest patient safety issue in the country.
Long-term care homes faced many challenges at the same time: pandemic prevention and response, COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 care, staffing shortages and worker safety, and the safe presence of family. Organizations had to respond rapidly, seeking practical solutions to support people and save lives.
Working in partnership to rise to these challenges made all the difference.
At Healthcare Excellence Canada (HEC), we saw this first-hand. More than 1,500 homes caring for over 180,000 residents came together in response to the pandemic, under the name LTC+. Together we shared experiences and best practices, and HEC provided coaching, virtual learning opportunities and seed funding to implement action plans and help long-term care organizations strengthen their response as they moved through the pandemic.
In partnership, we were able to face challenges head-on, thinking innovatively, while sharing solutions to help others across Canada.
Organizations shared improvements on bolstering capacity for staff training and education, ensuring access to appropriate personal protective equipment and hiring staff to support implementation of policy directives like screeners at entry points. Other participants made changes to infection prevention and control policies and procedures, pandemic and outbreak plans, and visitation policies and practices for essential care partners, who provide important physical, psychological and emotional support.
Partnerships allow us to think innovatively
More than half of the teams involved in this partnership noted improvements in care experiences and outcomes. Staff felt supported and better prepared to handle challenges, with nearly half of LTC+ teams noting work-life improvements.
A common theme emerged: sharing knowledge helped identify gaps, benchmark approaches and improve practices.
Sharing knowledge across broad teams is progress, but there is much more to do in long-term care as the pandemic evolves — and beyond. Teams tell us that workforce support, retention and mental health programming are needed to address worrying trends in staff burnout. There is also a need to refocus on person-centred care.
But as we continue moving through the pandemic, LTC+ teaches us that many challenges can be eased by working together. Such partnering in innovation should not be limited to long-term care. We must now apply this same approach across our healthcare system — to fix what ails it.
Jennifer Zelmer is President and CEO, and Tanya MacDonald is Director, Innovations and Strategic Development, at Healthcare Excellence Canada.