The speed with which Health Minister Terry Lake approved the sale of Retirement Concepts residential-care facilities to an investment firm from China was astonishing. It took only one week.
But considering that he has issued new licences to Anbang Insurance for 20 residential-care facilities across the province, we do wish that his “due diligence” had taken a bit longer and considered more voices.
Lake complained that regarding the sale, there was a “level of fear” generated by “seniors and their families,” but that he remained “confident seniors are very well protected.”
Those citizens he referred to would have undoubtedly explained that their worry was that profit would be more important to a foreign investment firm than quality of care in a foreign country.
They would have also pointed out that yes, Retirement Concepts will still manage the operation of these facilities — but only for the next three years. And they would also mention that regulations that the Ministry of Health has in place for residential care are not quantifiable and therefore open to a wide variety of interpretation and application, as evidenced by the already wide range of service levels between one facility and another. But those citizens weren’t given a chance to comment.
The “level of fear” that continues to come from one community after another has become instinctive, because when it comes to residential care, they tend to feel that their collective voice has always been marginalized or ignored by the Ministry of Health. They point out that as a result, residential care has been front-page news far too often.
A good example comes from our own association. We are an association of family councils from municipalities throughout the Island Health Authority. We are the only association of its kind in B.C. Family councils are composed of friends and families of residents in care who want to build collective relationships with management and staff in residential care facilities and have dialogue with them to promote the best possible care for seniors in each of their facilities, and then systemically through our association.
However, we have had to repeatedly point out to Lake and to Island Health the fact that many of these independent family councils have been routinely kicked out of facilities and had their voices silenced, particularly in situations in which there have been significant staffing disruptions or service shortcomings. Situations, in other words, where inconvenient observations might be made collectively by loved ones of residents.
It is clear that currently, residential-care facilities are deciding how much or how little they want to grant a collective voice to family councils.
Our association requested that the Ministry of Health guarantee the collective family council a voice in all facilities in B.C. by writing regulations and policies that require all facilities to support, engage with and promote family councils, giving loved ones at least a chance to comment collectively on decisions that are being made within those facilities. Unfortunately, for over two years, the Ministry of Health has denied our repeated request — even though it was cost-free for taxpayers.
It might help Lake to at least consider the optics: Owners and managers have a voice in facility-based decisions. Sub-contractors for health services, housekeeping services and food services also each have a voice. And now a foreign investment firm has a very strong voice.
It is time to guarantee that the community also has a voice through family councils and regional associations. And we urge him to do it with the same energy that he applied to the Anbang deal. To do anything less is a betrayal of the very families who are sending residents to facilities throughout B.C.
Kim Slater is chairman of the Vancouver Island Association of Family Councils. He lives in Lantzville.