Report sounds alarm on care for seniors

Access to quality care for seniors in residential and supported living facilities has continued to decline to critical levels, according to a report released Monday by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Between 2001 and 2016, access to residential care declined by 32 per cent when measuring beds relative to the population of people 75 and over, said the report. Island Health saw a decline of 25 per cent.

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In 2001, there were 5,083 publicly funded beds for seniors on the Island. In 2016, that had increased to 5,175, but the population of people age 75 or older in B.C. increased by 49 per cent.

The report highlights a decline in access to home support and an increase in for-profit facilities. It says B.C. is at the bottom of provinces in health-care spending.

The authors call for a stop to privatization of the home and community-care system as well as improved access to care and legislated standards.

This month, the B.C. government announced a $500-million plan to improve care for seniors by increasing staffing levels in residential care.

The announcement came two months after the B.C. seniors advocate reported that 91 per cent of facilities surveyed did not meet the Ministry of Health staffing guidelines of 3.36 hours of care per senior every day. Every for-profit private facility fell below this standard. Jennifer Whiteside of the Hospital Employees’ Union, which represents 46,000 health care and community social services workers in B.C., said the report captures the “dismal story about what has happened to access to care for seniors over the last 15 years.

“For some time, our members have been highlighting stories about situations in which there are simply not enough hands on deck to provide the quality of care seniors need.”

Whiteside found it especially troubling the fact that access to residential and supportive care has not appreciably increased.

“It’s shocking, given the percentage of seniors who need care and the fact we’ve seen such a crisis in terms of waiting lists for hospitals, congestion in emergency rooms and hallway medicine — much of which can be traced back to lack of access to home and community-care system,” she said.

According to the report, there has been a 30 per cent decline in home health services for seniors since 2001. More seniors require home-care services but receive on average fewer visits today than they did 16 years ago.

Access to home support for seniors on the Island decreased 19 per cent from 2001 to 2016.

The Health Ministry said in a statement that seniors have told the government and the seniors advocate “that their preference is to stay in their own homes, with supports and community care as long as is safely possible. That is why we are focusing on improvements and additions to home health and care in the community.”

The ministry said it has invested over $2.9 billion in home and community care in 2016-17, an increase of more than $1.3 billion from 2001.

The report also details how privatization of publicly funded services has rapidly increased and says that it is inferior to public or non-profit care. Beds operated by the private for-profit sector have increased by 42 per cent while beds operated by provincial health authorities have decreased by 11 per cent.

spetrescu@timescolonist.com

— with files from Katie DeRosa

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