Thank you, Chairman McKinnon, and thank you, Vice-Chairs Rempel Garner and Thériault, for the opportunity to speak to the committee today.
I'm pleased to be here today representing Jacobs Engineering. First of all, on behalf of all of us at Jacobs, I'd like to extend our deepest condolences to the families of the nearly 26,000 Canadians who have lost their lives during this pandemic.
As engineers and architects, we approach problems from a very simple perspective of an unbiased lens. We examine the causes, and we identify what needs to be done differently in order to achieve more favourable outcomes in the future.
I'd like to focus my remarks today on the impact of COVID-19 in our long-term care homes.
In January, Jacobs hosted an industry round table to examine how the built environment—the actual interior and physical space—may have contributed to the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 within our long-term care homes. The round table report outlined a series of nine recommendations, and I'd like to speak to two of them today.
Many jurisdictions have design standards for long-term care homes that have not been updated for years, and in some cases decades. In homes designed to those outdated standards, residents were confined, for the most part, to their rooms. They had little, if any, physical or social interaction with others, simply because the facility was not designed, or improved over the years, to meet the challenges of containing the spread of COVID-19.
It was acknowledged in the round table that the built environment is as important an element of health care as any other medical or clinical intervention. There needs to be a legislated framework that mandates regular updates to design standards, so the built environment within our long-term care homes keeps pace with the latest clinical research on caring for those with physical or cognitive impairments.
A second recommendation involved evidence-based decision-making and value-based procurements. Following the January round table, Jacobs and the Ontario Association of Architects, in consultation with the Ontario Ministry of Long-Term Care, have funded a research study by the University of Toronto’s Centre for Design + Health Innovation to conduct performance assessments of long-term care homes. This is the type of experiential data that governments need to have access to in order to ensure they are making the right investments in the right areas at the right time.
The findings of such work must become the basis for value-based procurement. In a sector as sensitive as long-term care, seeking out the lowest-cost and technically compliant bids should not be the benchmark we are striving to achieve. Rather, it should be about value creation in design, construction, maintenance and operations to help secure the best outcome for our most vulnerable citizens.
The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged governments at all levels to respond with urgency to its devastating outcomes, including the loss of over 15,000 lives in long-term care homes. In examining the root causes of these losses, it's important to recognize the pre-existence of structural and systemic vulnerabilities that heightened the risk of such outcomes occurring in our long-term care homes.
To make the most of proposed investments in long-term care, it's vital that governments first identify and, through updated standards and guidelines, resolve those structural and systemic vulnerabilities. Without this first critical step, we miss an important opportunity to ensure the best results for the investment of public funds.
If I had three recommendations to make, they would be that governments at all levels need to come together: first, to establish grant-based funding programs to vigorously re-engage Canada in public health research and development; second, to activate and mobilize Canada’s manufacturing sector to produce vast supplies of PPE and other mission-critical supplies and equipment; and lastly, to mandate regular updates to design and operating standards governing long-term care homes, to ensure these remain resilient places of care for our most vulnerable citizens.
In closing, I'd like to make one last observation with respect to mental health. This pandemic has raised awareness of the importance of mental health. As we emerge from this pandemic, it's my sincere hope we do not lose the momentum that has been created, and that the attention drawn to mental health does not fade away. All levels of government have a role to play in ensuring that hospitals across the country have access to stable and long-term funding for mental health programs, and that local non-profit organizations, delivering invaluable intervention programs, similarly have access to predictable and long-term government funding and support.
Thank you very much for your time and attention today.