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Comment: Long-term care needs a long-term fix

B.C.’s care home residents and those who care for them deserve better.
Meena Brisard is the secretary-business manager for the Hospital Employees’ Union. PHOTO VIA HEU

A commentary by the secretary-business manager of the Hospital Employees’ Union, B.C.’s largest health-care union.

Just three years ago, the seniors’ care crisis was front and centre as front-line workers scrambled to deal with the devastating consequences of COVID-19.

In the pandemic’s aftermath, care home workers are burnt out as a widespread staffing shortage undermines our ability to care for our aging population.

A worker from a for-profit, long-term care home in Victoria recently shared with me that she often works short because her co-workers quit to work at other care homes with better compensation packages and safer caring conditions.

Her story is a familiar one. Almost all B.C. care homes are publicly-funded, but about a third are operated by private for-profit operators, a third by non-profits and a third by our public health authorities.

They provide a patchwork of caring conditions, with huge gaps in benefits and other contract-related working conditions between care homes.

It wasn’t always this way. Twenty years ago, a province-wide collective agreement covering most publicly-funded care homes standardized working and caring conditions.

The former B.C. Liberal government passed laws and regulations that saw many care home operators opt out of this standard contract — leaving us with today’s fragmented seniors’ care system.

B.C.’s care home residents and those who care for them deserve better.

The NDP provincial government has taken action to improve the situation. Still, more needs to be done to protect the continuity of care for the frail elderly.

These words from a Vancouver care aide summarize what workers want: “I wish for respect, a fair wage and a reasonable workload for all care aides.”

This is a crisis we can fix.

We can restore stable, safe working and caring conditions in our publicly-funded care homes by restoring common working and caring conditions.

Our current NDP government has committed to doing just that. Now, they need to act.

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