The home care worker shortage has hit a crisis point, according to the BC Care Providers Association (BCCPA), and the upcoming transition to regional health authorities could put pressure on an already dwindling workforce.
By Oct. 31, Island Health is taking over publicly funded home support service delivery on South Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. That means employees of Beacon Community Services, the non-profit in charge of home support in the South Island, will be transitioned to provincial employee status.
Home support workers help with bathing, dressing, cooking and other daily living activities, primarily for seniors.
But the industry is facing a worker shortage, with 50 per cent of B.C. home care workers identifying staff shortages in their organizations – in contrast with the growing number of B.C. seniors.
“Any location like Vancouver Island, which is a destination for retirees, it would go without saying that you are likely going to experience a higher need for care aids and are going to be experiencing a much larger need for things like long-term care beds and home care,” said Daniel Fontaine, CEO of BC Care Providers Association.
But he said the employees necessary to cover that need simply aren’t there.
“We’re in really, a very critical position, and I talk to care providers across the province…and they’re all reporting, whether they’re in home care or long-term care, issues with shortages,” he said. “There just are not enough.”
And South Vancouver Island isn’t the only place where home care is transitioning. Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health are taking over home care services in their regions too. In total, 4,000 workers are being transitioned to three health authorities.
Fontaine said that although the health authorities are committed to maintaining quality care, the transition could be detrimental to an already suffering industry.
The government’s eight-hour shift model could throw a wrench in an already small pool of workers, which Fontaine said often sees workers taking on scattered shifts and part-time work, covering the early mornings and evenings when home care is typically most-needed.
While that might not be ideal for workers, Fontaine said more care aids are needed for the eight-hour shift model.
“That’s concerning because this is not a hockey team. We don’t have a team we can go grab players from,” he said. “These are seniors and these are their care plans, and they’re very complex. We just don’t have the extra bodies that we can move around.”
But Island Health says it will create “integrated neighbourhood teams” and provide strong, “client-centred” work.
“A client will not see a major change between Beacon providing the service and ourselves providing the service,” said Victoria Power, Island Health executive lead for the South Island home support transition. “Continuity of having that same worker in your home is paramount.”
But Power said Island Health will be working on the need for more workers.
“We have a need for community health workers,” she said. “We need everybody and we will likely need more [workers] as our population is aging in Victoria.”
Power said as people live longer, care is becoming more complex.
“That’s why we are absolutely, 100 per cent, telling employees that we need everybody,” she said.
The BCCPA has estimated that the transition of 4,000 workers to one employer per region could reduce the capacity of the workforce by 25 per cent, as employees who supplement their incomes with overtime work are forced into taking one job.
Fontaine speculates that some employees will retire early or head to private practices.
And the impact of the shortage has already been felt in B.C., both by seniors and community health workers.
According to 2016 data from Safe Care BC, the injury rate for home, community care and support workers is twice the provincial average of all occupations – and most of the injuries are caused by overexertion.
The report also found that time loss claims increased 42 per cent over five years.
And the seniors they care for are suffering too. The Office of the Seniors Advocate of British Columbia found that home care complaints across the province had risen 32 per cent in 2017-2018, over and above a 23 per cent increase the year prior.
“We’re a staff and labour-intensive organization and we need people to help seniors,” Fontaine said. “Continuity of care is very top of mind for seniors, they really want to have the same care as much as they can.”
Service contracts with non-profit and for-profit home care contractors expire in 2020, sparking the move to health authority jurisdiction this fall.