Health Minister Adrian Dix listens while Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie speaks at an event, June 2018. (B.C. government)

B.C. Seniors Advocate questions labour shortage in care homes

Are there really no workers, or are care aide wages too low?

B.C.’s health care budget has the biggest numbers of any provincial government function, but for seniors in residential care, the most important numbers are the small ones.

A key one is, do they get one bath per week, or two?

The standard for each senior in a provincially funded home is 3.36 hours of care per day, a target Health Minister Adrian Dix has pledged to meet by 2021 by adding operating money and staff to provincial and contracted care homes.

Last year’s budget committed extra funds toward that goal, with $48.4 million in the current budget allocated to 183 facilities around the province for care aides, physiotherapists and other support staff. Dix has said that the key is to recruit 1,500 full-time equivalent people, 900 of them care aides, to fill the persistent service gap, after more than 800 care aides moved from part-time to full-time work.

After the release of the B.C. budget this week, the problem was highlighted by Mike Klassen, vice president of the B.C. Care Providers Association. He called the ministry’s three-year staff funding commitment “extremely generous,” and noted that Finance Minister Carole James’ new budget adds additional money for training.

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“We’re at full employment in B.C. right now, so what we’re seeing is a lot of care providers are really coming up short,” Klassen said. “So seniors are not getting the care they need because of those staffing shortages.”

B.C. Seniors’ Advocate Isobel Mackenzie questions that conclusion. She said the latest budget confirms the health ministry’s three-year commitment to reach the care hours target, which was first made by the previous B.C. Liberal government.

Mackenzie’s office did some checking in an effort to verify the labour shortage. The Health Employers Association maintains a “difficult-to-fill vacancy report,” and she said care aides are not on the list. And a check of job ads also came up empty.

“The other thing that the industry doesn’t really want to talk about, but I think has to be talked about, is the wage differential,” Mackenzie said in an interview with Black Press. “If you’re going to say, ‘I can’t hire anybody but I’m going to pay $19 an hour,’ and down the street they’re paying $24 an hour and they are getting people, I think the solution to your problem is pretty obvious. Pay them 24 bucks an hour.”

The Seniors Advocate office has tested results with regular surveys of seniors at home, in assisted living and in residential care, a process Mackenzie intends to expand.

“We can say we’re funding a care facility for 3.36 hours, but we can’t verify that’s what they’re providing,” Mackenzie said. “We need a very robust monitoring mechanism in place to make sure that care operators who are receiving funds for care hours are using those to deliver those care hours.”


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

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