Residential care homes in B.C. are getting increased care aides

BC VIEWS: Bonus baths for B.C. seniors

Health Minister Terry Lake blames Ottawa for delay in increasing care home staff, but that doesn't add up

Premier Christy Clark said she hadn’t seen the little web attack ad that was released a couple of weeks ago by the B.C. Federation of Labour.

The “Game Over” spot imitates an early “Super Mario” video game, with a pixilated Clark in a pink hard hat hopping from photo op to photo op, collecting points for closing a school and understaffing a seniors’ care home.

The school closing is a cheap shot, but the latter scenario hit home. We’ve heard the horror stories for years, with contract operators laying off all their staff to reincorporate or sell, elderly residents limited to one bath per week, drugs over-used to quiet residents, and injuries to caregivers from lifting frail elderly people.

With those working conditions, even keeping the staff that are funded has been difficult.

An additional $500 million was tucked into the BC Liberals’ election budget in February, and retiring Health Minister Terry Lake rolled out the results last week. Over the next three years, that money will finance the hiring of 1,500 more staff, add ceiling lifts and wheelchairs, and create a “robust monitoring system” to make sure the money goes to patients, not profits.

The goal is to reach an average 3.3 hours per resident day from care assistants, physiotherapists and nurses, a goal recommended to the health ministry back in 2009.

Seniors’ Advocate Isobel Mackenzie, who has proven to be a tough critic despite being Lake’s appointee, summed up the changes from a resident’s point of view.

“It could mean that I can go to the bathroom within 15 minutes of asking, instead of 45.” Mackenzie said. “It might mean I can ask for a bath on Tuesday and get one, even though I had one on Saturday. It might mean I can get the aide to walk me to the dining room using my walker, rather than put me in a wheelchair, because that’s the faster way to get me there.”

I gave NDP health critic Judy Darcy a hard time last week for putting union spin ahead of the public interest, but this time she’s on the mark. Darcy made short work of Lake’s claim that this extra funding had to wait for a new health transfer deal with Ottawa.

Darcy noted that those transfers have increased six per cent each year since Paul Martin was prime minister, while B.C. governments boasted of bending down the “cost curve” of health care.

And let the record show that the Justin Trudeau government did something right. It upheld the former Harper government’s decision to reduce that unsustainable six-per-cent figure, while adding new money tied to home care.

With seniors living longer and the baby boom starting to retire and head west, home care is the only way B.C. will survive financially.

Mackenzie had more good news. About 85 per cent of people aged 85 and up still live independently in B.C. About half of them are supported at home despite complex needs that qualify them for residential care.

The new plan “recognizes that many of the family caregivers caring for these weak seniors are stretched to the breaking point, and they need more relief to keep their loved one at home,” she said.

Meanwhile, the “rural paramedicine” program is extending to 70 communities, with part-time paramedics getting stable work doing home “wellness checks” to prevent emergencies. They also lead walking groups for frail seniors who wouldn’t otherwise venture out for risk of injury.

Slowly, the post-war model of acute hospital care recedes, and just in time.

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