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.

BC legislatureSeniors

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Comments are closed

Just Posted

Severe thunderstorm watch in effect for Cariboo, North Thompson region

Prince George, Quesnel, Williams Lake and 100 Mile House all under watch

Interior Health will not expand Police and Crisis Team

Southeast Division Chief Superintendent Brad Haugli asked IH to expand the program

High water and flooding hits Clearwater

Potential for roadblock on Clearwater Valley Road due to potential washouts

District of Barriere Utilities Manager reports to council on Barriere wells

District of Barriere Utilities Manager Ian Crosson presented a verbal report during… Continue reading

Tk’emlups, Simpcw First Nations chiefs call on Tiny House Warriors to leave Blue River protest camp

“The Tiny House Warriors are not from Simpcw, nor are they our guests in our territory.”

Police issue warning after baby comes across suspected drugs in Kamloops park

The 11-month-old girl’s mother posted photos on social media showing a small plastic bag containing a purple substance

Collision results in train derailment just east of Golden

The derailment occurred Sunday night, according to a statement from CP

Lower Mainland woman says llama farming neighbour shot her 11-month-old pup

Young dog was on owner’s Maple Ridge property when it was killed on June 21

B.C. records 31 new cases, six deaths over three days due to COVID-19

There are 166 active cases in B.C., 16 people in hospital

B.C. highway widening job reduced, costs still up $61 million

Union-only project scales back work to widen Trans-Canada

Greater Victoria nanny pleads guilty to child porn, sexual interference charges

Johnathon Lee Robichaud pleaded guilty to slew of sex crimes

Most Read