B.C. care providers call on province’s seniors’ advocate to step down over collusion allegations

Click to play video: 'Allegations raised against B.C. seniors’ advocate'
Allegations raised against B.C. seniors’ advocate
WATCH: Questions are being raised about B.C.'s seniors' advocate after a series of emails that appears to show collusion with the Hospital Employees Union on a report. Nadia Stewart reports, and Keith Baldrey has reaction from the province – Mar 21, 2019

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story linked the report at the centre of the complaints against Isobel Mackenzie and the province’s decision last week to roll privately-run home support workers into B.C.’s health authorities. Both the BC Care Providers Association and the province say the report is not connected to that decision. The story has been updated to reflect that clarification.

The BC Care Providers Association (BCCPA) is calling on the province’s seniors’ advocate to resign following allegations of collusion with the Hospital Employees’ Union (HEU).

In a statement released Thursday, the BCCPA said a freedom of information request uncovered a collaboration between Isobel Mackenzie and the union to shape the narrative of a report released in August 2018 on the transferring of care home residents to emergency rooms across B.C.

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The BCCPA said its freedom of information request brought back emails, text exchanges and calendar appointments made between Mackenzie and representatives of the union, and included screenshots of some of the exchanges in its statement.

Those emails include changing a statistic in the report of the likelihood of patients dying in hospital after being transferred from private home care from 20 per cent to 54 per cent.

WATCH: (Aired March 13) Nadia Stewart reports on the province’s decision to roll home care jobs into the health authorities

Click to play video: 'NDP government takes control of home support care'
NDP government takes control of home support care

Mackenzie allegedly also consulted with the HEU’s secretary business manager Jennifer Whiteside about the language in the report days before its release, and strategy about when to release the report to the media.

In its statement, the BCCPA, which represents the majority of long-term care providers in the province, called the revelations “a tipping point” in its relationship with Mackenzie.

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“At BCCPA, we have tried to work with the Seniors’ Advocate over the years with mixed results,” the statement reads.

“We were never advised in advance by the [Office of the Seniors’ Advocate (OSA)] of the release of the August report. Our members — which make up the overwhelming majority of long-term care providers in the province — also were never notified in advance of the report’s findings.
“The release of this [freedom of information request] provides us with a disturbing insight into which organization is having the most profound influence over the OSA,” the statement continued.
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WATCH: (Aired March 15) Health Minister Adrian Dix talks about the province’s decision on privately-run home care jobs

Click to play video: 'B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix responds to comments on seniors services'
B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix responds to comments on seniors services

The BCCPA also questioned why Mackenzie never voiced any concerns over the province’s decision last week to roll thousands of private home care jobs into B.C.’s health authorities, saying it shows that her independence has been compromised.

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“To have someone in a job that requires so much public trust, and so clearly abusing that trust, it cannot continue,” the BCCPA said.

‘I am independent’

Mackenzie admitted Thursday she received information from the HEU while writing the report, but called it standard practice, adding she’s received input from the BCCPA for past reports.

“I am independent,” she said. “I am not influenced by one particular group or another. I listen to many voices and I’m guided by the facts and the evidence, and sometimes the care providers like that and sometimes they don’t.”

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Mackenzie also said she has no plans to step down.

“I think the public would be very concerned if a statutory officer of government whose job is to advocate in the interest of seniors was made or felt they had to step down if they upset an industry association,” she said.

Health Minister Adrian Dix says that he is fully supportive of Mackenzie and that there are no plans to make any changes.

“If people are going to have tantrums every time she is critical of something, people are going to have a lot of tantrums. She is of course critical of a lot of things, myself included from time to time, but that’s her job. Her achievements are beyond question.”

Whiteside with the HEU said she was puzzled by the BCCPA’s description of the events, and also defended providing information to Mackenzie for the report, saying she’s qualified to do so.

WATCH: (Aired March 14) Nadia Stewart reports on the funding gap for seniors care in B.C.

Click to play video: 'Problems with long-term seniors care in B.C.'
Problems with long-term seniors care in B.C.

“Our members are absolutely the frontline experts on provision of care to seniors,” Whiteside said. “So when we’re asked to provide insight or provide information, we are happy to do so.”

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Whiteside also argued the BCCPA should have brought up their concerns when the report was released in August.

“It is very puzzling to me where they’re coming from, what kind of story they’re trying to tell and why now,” she said.

—With files from Nadia Stewart, Keith Baldrey and Srushti Gangdev

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