There are 28,000 seniors in publicly funded residential care today, and only 15 per cent of facilities are meeting the provincial standard for daily care hours. (Flicker/Creative Commons)

B.C. VIEWS: Who will care for frail elderly?

Today’s nursing home labour shortage is just the beginning

The B.C. NDP government has taken its first significant step to close the wide and persistent gap between the reality of basic support for seniors in residential care and the province’s target.

Officially, that target is an average 3.36 hours of personal care per patient, per day. In practical terms, that means getting two baths a week instead of one, or being escorted with a walker to the dining room instead of being whisked there in a wheelchair by an overworked employee.

In human terms, it means an isolated, lonely senior is not just cleaner and more comfortable, he or she gets a few more minutes of personal contact to relieve the tedium of confinement and the junk of daytime TV.

B.C.’s Seniors Advocate, Isobel Mackenzie, reported last week that as of March 2017, that standard was being met in 15 per cent of publicly funded care homes. That’s up from nine-per-cent compliance the previous year, based on an annual survey of the 293 public and contracted care homes across the province.

The first move was communicated to facility operators in conference calls last week, and will be confirmed in the NDP government budget on Feb. 20. Authorities will be funded to increase their casual and part-time care aide positions to full time as of April 1.

Health Minister Adrian Dix cautions that this is at best a partial solution, even with half of the current workforce in casual and part-time positions. Not all will accept full-time work.

“To reach the 3.36 [hours target], we’re told that it will require 900 net new care aides, in a sector where more than a quarter of care aides are over 55,” Dix told me. “So there would be considerable effort just to stay where we are now, and this is going to require a significant number of new care aides.”

Daniel Fontaine, CEO of the B.C. Care Providers Association, agrees: “Moving from casual to full-time is not going to do it.”

Fontaine has been pushing to expand dual-credit high school courses to get more young people into senior care as a first job, with virtually guaranteed employment even in rural and remote communities. These high school spaces are now mainly focused on male-dominated skilled trades, while popular culture bombards teens with the allure of high-tech careers.

At a residential care conference in Surrey Jan. 26, Dix announced new post-secondary training spaces for care aides. Unfortunately, the government is also embarking on an aggressive expansion of child care, and the labour pool for that is largely the same people.

Fontaine says he’s hearing regularly from private colleges around B.C. that have vacant health care assistant training spaces now. The fastest solution would be to fill those spaces with immigrants eager to work, but there’s a problem. Federal immigration authorities won’t issue work permits unless students train at a public college. So the province wastes money on duplicate public spaces due to Ottawa’s arbitrary rules.

And of course the shortage of young workers mirrors the vast growth in seniors as baby boomers retire. There are currently 28,000 seniors in publicly funded residential care in B.C., out of an estimated 850,000 people over 65. Total senior population is projected to reach 1.4 million over the next 15 years.

“But over 75, that number is going to increase by two and a half times in the next 20 years,” Dix said.

Progress is slowly being made, thanks to the work of the Seniors Advocate’s office to report this situation to the public and to governments.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Two Nuxalk artists awarded YVR Art Foundation scholarships

Several Nuxalk artists have won the award, some more than once

Convicted animal abuser to return to B.C. court May 21

Catherine Jessica Adams is facing a breach of probation charge

Concerns over democracy as Senate committee votes to nix oil tanker ban

Critics of the Senate’s recommendation to kill Bill C-48 say it goes against popular will

Open casting call issued for Trevor Mack’s first feature-length film

All Indigenous actors, preferably local Chilcotin people, are needed for Portraits From A Fire’s cast

New ferry to B.C.’s central coast sets sail, a year late and $20M over budget

Northern Sea Wolf will cost $76 million when it hits the waters in June

Rescuers finally persuade Eiffel Tower climber to come down

The official said the man was ‘under control and out of danger’ on Monday night

Federal government funds millions to help B.C. police spot drugged driving

Many police departments have expressed wariness about using the only government-approved roadside test

Judge: Mississippi 6-week abortion ban ‘smacks of defiance’

The new law would prohibit most abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected

Oil companies, 24-cent gap between B.C., Alberta to be focus of gas price probe

Premier John Horgan called the spike in gas prices ‘alarming’

Motorcycle deaths spike 50% since 2017

Riders were most likely fatally crash on the weekends compared with the rest of the week

Mother of accused charged in death of Surrey teen girl found in torched SUV

Manjit Kaur Deo charged with ‘accessory after the fact’ in 2017 death of Surrey teen

Family of B.C. pilot killed in Honduras trying to ‘piece together’ tragedy

Patrick Forseth has a number of friends in the area and was loved by everyone

Justin Trudeau credits immigration for Canada’s growing tech sector

Trudeau stressed that Canada has become a major source of talent for tech all over the world

Feds launch tourism strategy designed to boost sector 25 per cent by 2025

The fund is supposed to back experiences that show off Canada’s strengths

Most Read