Jennifer Whiteside, secretary-business manager of the Hospital Employees’ Union. (Black Press)

BC BUDGET: New money helps seniors’ care shortage

Job stability for care aides key to recruitment, union leader says

The B.C. government’s commitment to raise care standards in seniors’ homes turns out to be an additional $548 million over the next three years in the NDP government’s first budget.

What remains to be seen is whether that money is enough to attract and hold workers, says a leader of the union representing many employees working in residential care homes.

“There is no question that we have a recruitment and retention crisis in long-term care for seniors,” said Jennifer Whiteside, secretary-business manager of the Hospital Employees Union. “For too many staff who provide this important care to seniors, the work is unstable. They are at risk of losing their jobs.”

Whiteside points to Finnish Manor, a Burnaby facility where the owners laid off the entire staff of 50 last week, then contracted out the jobs with what she says are lower wages and benefits.

B.C. Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie does annual surveys of care home service levels. Her latest report in January found 85 per cent of B.C.’s 293 publicly funded residential care homes don’t have enough staff to provide the 3.35 hours per patient per day that the health ministry sets as a standard.

Mackenzie found that facilities owned and operated by regional health authorities are generally funded to meet the care hours, as well as higher rates of therapy and more physically dependent residents than contracted operators.

Mike Klassen, communications director for the B.C. Care Providers’ Association, says the additional money is “good news for B.C. seniors.” But recruiting more staff is going to be challenging, as the government’s plan to expand child care creates additional demand on the same pool of employees needed by seniors’ homes.

Whiteside says care aides need higher wages as well as an expectation of stable work.

Health Minister Adrian Dix says 900 additional care aides are needed to meet the care standard across the province. The additional money allows health authorities to offer full-time work to part-time and casual employees.

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