NDP Leader John Horgan has announced a $1.4-billion, 10-year capital plan to build new long-term-care facilities and eliminate multi-resident rooms, as well as providing greater oversight of private operators of seniors homes and a continued wage bump to have staff work at just one site.
“I believe seniors in their latter years should have the dignity of one room with just them — that’s the goal,” said Horgan, speaking to the media at a campaign stop in Surrey.
The NDP is promising to make permanent a wage top-up it put in place in April so all workers in private and public seniors care homes would earn the same wage, allowing them to remain at one facility, rather than shuttling between jobs at various sites. B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix has said that top-up is costing B.C. $10 million to $15 million a month.
Horgan laid the blame for COVID-19 outbreaks in seniors homes at the feet of the former B.C. Liberal government, which, he said, provided inadequate funding of long-term care and assisted living.
“The outbreaks at senior care facilities at the beginning of the pandemic were a direct result of B.C. Liberal choices, a direct result of their decision to reduce the number of dollars that you could make when you’ve worked in the sector,” said Horgan.
However, Terry Lake, CEO of the B.C. Care Providers Association, which represents non- government operators, and a former B.C. Liberal health minister, said the rise in the private provision of long-term care “simply isn’t” a factor in the COVID-19 outbreaks in seniors homes. “There’s no data to support that whatsoever,” Lake said from Kamloops.
B.C.’s Office of the Seniors Advocate has said for years that the majority of seniors homes in the province did not meet the minimum requirements put in place when the B.C. Liberals were governing.
“Over 17 years, they never met their own standard,” said Horgan. “In fact, when we formed government in 2017, nine out of 10 care homes in British Columbia were not meeting the minimal standard that the B.C. Liberals have put in place.”
Health-care providers have also long advocated for single-resident rooms in hospitals and care homes.
Horgan pointed to the Liberals’ 2002 and 2003 legislation that allowed facilities to contract out union jobs, resulting in thousands of layoffs, lower wages and gutted benefits for workers, and elderly clients being subjected to ever-changing staff.
The Hospital Employees’ Union says making the wage top-up permanent will provide stability and certainty for seniors and workers in a sector where there were wide gaps in wages and benefits from one care home to another.
Horgan said details of the seniors plan will be in the NDP’s soon-to-be released platform.
Asked if he hoped to phase out private-care providers, Horgan said private operators are needed. “I believe there can be a healthy mix.”
Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson said solutions and remedies in seniors care are needed now, adding the NDP’s “grand plans” in the past have “really amounted to nothing.”
As for Horgan blaming the B.C. Liberals for problems in seniors homes, Wilkinson said the “NDP blame game is getting tired for everybody.” Wilkinson said he supports the work at a single site order for seniors homes made in the spring by Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer.
Asked about the permanent wage top-up, Wilkinson said the province needs long-term care workers “and they need to be properly compensated so they can do the job safely working in a single facility.”
On the mixture of private and public operators, Wilkinson said the most important thing is not to disrupt seniors who are in an established environment where they have friends and relationships with staff.
Green Leader Sonia Furstenau said in a statement that COVID-19 has exposed major problems in long-term care in B.C.
“We have an aging population and we need to act with urgency on this issue,” said Furstenau. “We see time and time again that the other parties are content to tinker around the edges of major problems, and then we’re left wondering why we still have issues with our services.”
The B.C. Greens’ plan for long-term care will be released soon.