12/02/2013 05:29 EST | Updated 02/01/2014 05:59 EST

NDP says Saskatchewan needs bill of rights for residents in long-term care

REGINA - The Opposition says Saskatchewan should follow the recommendations of the law reform commission and bring in a residents' bill of rights for all long-term care homes.

NDP Leader Cam Broten says a bill of rights helps establish the basic minimum level of care.

"We've had so many examples come forward to the legislature, families coming forward, talking about a level of care that doesn't bring dignity," Broten said Monday at the legislature.

"People being forced to soil themselves because there isn't someone there to help them. Today, we had a discussion about poor quality of food in some facilities. So a residents bill of rights would be something that families could point to, to say the care is falling short and needs to be so much better."

The Law Reform Commission of Saskatchewan released a report in May that said new steps should be taken to ensure civil rights are recognized in long-term care.

The eight recommendations include a bill of rights for all long-term care homes and legislation to set out a minimum standard for the residents' bill of rights, with each long-term care home drafting its own document.

Researchers for the commission's consultation paper, which was released in August 2010, spoke with friends and family members of residents in long-term care facilities.

That paper said a common complaint was that residents weren't given enough time or help to eat. It said three families believe their loved one died as a result of the lack of help to eat and drink. In one case, a resident who needed food pureed was given a "blenderized" hot dog, the paper stated.

Concerns were also raised about insufficient bathing — once per week for incontinent residents.

The commission said in its May report that responses to the consultation paper "generally affirmed that current protections for the civil rights of residents in long-term care are inadequate."

The recommendations are submitted to the province for consideration, but the government doesn't have to implement any of them.

Health Minister Dustin Duncan says the province could consider a bill of rights for residents in long-term care down the road.

"But I think that we can make many of the changes that an organization like the law reform commission would call for without necessarily having a bill of rights," Duncan said Monday.

"My understanding is that three other provinces have a similar type of bill of rights. Has it actually improved the care for seniors that are within long-term care? I don't necessarily have the answer to that, so before we go too far down that road, we want to look to see what the experience has been in provinces and whether or not it's something that would be, at the end of the day, a benefit for the residents."

The commission report says all long-term care homes in Manitoba must adopt a residents' bill of rights that meets a legislated minimum standard. It says both Ontario and British Columbia have legislated specific bills of rights for long-term care residents.

"The residents' bills of rights examined by the commission have much in common. All include general statements confirming the human rights and dignity of residents," read the report.