On March 9, the provincial government announced that it plans to invest $500 million in seniors’ care over the next four years; a move that was applauded by such bodies as the Office of the Seniors Advocate, the Hospital Employees Union (HEU), and the BC Care Providers Association (BCCPA).
The announcement came only six weeks after the Office of the Seniors Advocate released its British Columbia Residential Care Facilities Quick Facts Directory, which indicated that 90 per cent of seniors in long-term and residential care facilities in the province were not receiving the 3.36 hours of individual care per day mandated by the provincial government (see “Guide shows staffing care for seniors has grown worse”, The Journal, February 9). This figure is up from 82 per cent in the 2016 directory.
And it came only five weeks after the BCCPA launched its #CareCanBeThere campaign, which contained 30 proposals to support seniors and their caregivers (see “More funds needed for seniors’ care”, The Journal, February 16). The Journal spoke with Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie, BCCPA CEO Daniel Fontaine, and HEU secretary-business manager Jennifer Whiteside about the government’s announcement, and what it will mean for the province’s seniors.
“It’s pretty comprehensive,” says Mackenzie. “Two issues stood out. First, it addresses care hours in care facilities. People wondered what was happening. Second, the government recognizes that home care and home support has not been keeping pace with demands.”
Among the items contained in the announcement was a commitment to hire 1,500 more people, such as care aides, nurses, and physiotherapists, so that seniors would receive 3.36 hours of daily care per day.
“That means three million more hours of care per year, or seven thousand more hours per day,” says Mackenzie. “By not increasing the care hours, you’re taking away a little bit each day.
“If you are in a care facility, you usually need someone to help you with every single thing. Twenty minutes extra a day doesn’t sound like much, but it’s pretty significant. You can have a shower in 20 minutes.”
The government has also promised more money for home support, which Mackenzie says is key for rural B.C. “”It can be a better solution to care for people at home, but the current plan is falling short. We’ve identified the need for earlier home care support, because if we can get in there sooner, it can slow the progression of cognitive or physical impairment for some people.
“Flexibility around home care hours will benefit rural residents. But in rural B.C., a key issue is that you can’t get staff, either because of budget issues or they just don’t have the staff.”
Jennifer Whiteside welcomes the announcement of more staff, both in long-term and residential care and for home support.
“What is significant is that 900 [of the new employees] are expected to be care aides, the people who give direct care to residents. That’s where we’ve really been feeling the pinch. And it will go some way to achieving the 3.36 hours target.” However, Whiteside cautions that since this will be averaged across all facilities, some seniors still might not get the mandated hours of daily one-on-one care.
She is pleased that the government has committed $10 million toward upgrading equipment, and purchasing new equipment, for publicly funded care homes. Not only will this improve the quality of life, and the safety, of residents, but it will also help prevent injuries to staff members.
“We have been talking about the outrageous injury rates of care aides for a long time. In addition to equipment needs, though, we have seen that short staffing contributes to the injury rate for care aides. The staffing piece is key. If you don’t have hands on deck to provide care, or you are rushing, it can lead to injury. And lots of work needs to be done to bring job security and stability, so people will stay employed.”
Daniel Fontaine is very pleased with the government’s response to the advice of seniors’ care advisors. “They definitely hit a lot of the items we talked about in our report, and touched on almost all the recommendations we made,” he says.
“The move to 3.36 hours is significant on the part of the government. In real terms it means somebody can get an additional bath, or go to the toilet more often. For those within the seniors care system now it will make a huge difference.”
The hiring of more key staff is “very exciting,” he notes, adding that he is pleased to see recruitment efforts, and moves to be able to train staff as quickly as possible. “We need to be a bit more innovative about recruitment. One suggestion would be more training on site.”
The BCCPA will be given the $10 million for new equipment, which will be spent on items such as wheelchairs and bed rails for residents, and ceiling lifts to help care aides and other staff. “The money will help care providers do their jobs better. According to WorkSafe BC, health care assistants have the highest injury rate of all sectors in B.C.
“SafeCare BC runs programs to help train employees, but a key is to have more and better equipment. When that equipment is on site, fewer employees are injured. That was a big win.
“This is the most significant investment in seniors’ care in the province in a decade,” Fontaine continues. “We’re very proud of the fact we had a solid report and solid recommendations. There’s real meat, and detail about what is planned.”
“The [government’s] plan is very detailed, which shows me they’re concerned,” agrees Mackenzie. “It’s a very well-thought-out plan; it builds. It’s a four-year plan; but we can’t do it overnight.”
Whiteside echoes that last sentiment. “This is not going to fix everything; but it is a good start.”