We can solve our seniors’ care crisis

More than 90 per cent of the province’s residential care homes are not funded to meet government’s current minimum staffing guideline

Editor, The Times:

According to B.C.’s Seniors Advocate, more than 90 per cent of the province’s residential care homes are not funded to meet government’s current minimum staffing guideline.

It’s a shocking statistic, and it’s up from 82 per cent a year ago.

This staffing crisis in our seniors’ care homes has been building for years.

But if you aren’t a resident, a family member, or a care worker, you may not have seen the warning signs firsthand.

Staff rushed off their feet. Call bells ringing, but unattended. Seniors waiting for assistance in hallways, their beds, or the dining room.

Most are fragile. All are vulnerable.  And many don’t have a relative or friend who can visit often enough to provide the comfort and human contact any one of us would expect to be there for us, when we need it most.

Without urgent action to ensure there are enough staff on shift, many seniors will continue to wait. Their loved ones will continue to worry. And care staff will continue to have the highest on-the-job injuries in the province.

How did we get here?

The answer lies in more than a decade of underfunding. And it’s been compounded by extensive privatization, and the ability of private operators to contract out services and flip those contracts at will.  In the process, entire staff teams are fired to make way for new subcontractors that may, or may not, rehire them and at a lower wage.

This practice destabilizes care, while driving down workers’ wages to boost the bottom line.

What’s needed now is immediate action on funding, and a commitment to tackle systemic issues going forward.

First, government must bring all facilities up to the province’s current minimum staffing guideline. And it must ensure new funds have strong accountability measures that guarantee additional resources go to frontline staffing, not profits or administration.

Next, government needs to determine the level of staffing hours actually required to deliver safe, quality care and legislation to enforce that standard.

And finally, the ongoing problem of contracting out and contract flipping by for-profit operators must be addressed.

If we’re serious about delivering the timely, dignified care seniors rely on, we need proper funding, the strongest possible standards, and measures to deal with repeated contract flipping in the private sector.

How we treat our seniors is a reflection of the kind of society we want to live in. Let’s do the right thing.

Jennifer Whiteside, secretary-business manager

Hospital Employees’ Union