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‘This is a silent crisis’: Advocates voice concerns over care worker shortage in the Okanagan

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Health care worker shortage in the Okanagan – Apr 16, 2019

Seniors homes are facing an alarming shortage of care workers, and those in the industry say something needs to be done.

“We don’t have enough care aids. When you ring the call bell, it means someone’s not going to come,” said Daniel Fontaine, B.C. Care Providers Association CEO, said.

“When our province has faced a crisis like the wildfires or other types of crisis, we mobilize. The government gets into action, puts in money, brings the firefighters out. This is a silent crisis.”

READ MORE: B.C.’s seniors advocate says shortage of care aides due to low wages, not supply

Fontaine doesn’t believe it’s a wage issue.

“Even the Interior Health Authority — which pays the top wage for care aides — even they’re struggling to get people,” Fontaine said. “So this is beyond an issue around wages. It has more to do with getting younger people, getting new immigrants, getting other communities interested and aware of the fact that these jobs are there.

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“This is the fastest growing sector in the entire province of all the sectors in the economy, and yet we’re not treating it like it is.”

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He added that schools have plenty of training spaces for care aides, but they’re not filled. He wants to see more active recruitment.

“We need to immediately get out into the public and into schools and discuss with new immigrants, other community groups, First Nations communities, and help them understand what it takes to become a care aide,” Fontaine said.

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“The program for care aides takes six months, and the starting wage is usually around $20 an hour with good benefits,” he added.

“It’s a great career opportunity,” said Zander Cook, Haven Hill Care Centre’s general manager. “It’s recession-proof.”

His facility is currently hiring 14 positions.

“The care levels are difficult. People are running short all the time,” he said. “It’s nerve-wracking for families and residents and team members.”

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WATCH: B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix responds to comments on seniors services (March 15)

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B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix responds to comments on seniors services – Mar 15, 2019

Graduates who are skilled and want to work are virtually guaranteed a job, according to Melanie Reinhardt, Vantage Living’s president. “Not everybody can be a health care person, but for those caring and compassionate individuals, we need to enable them to get training,” she said.

Fontaine, meanwhile, said seniors are staying in their own places longer, in part due to better home care options.

That means that when they’re entering care homes, they’re older and usually have more health problems, he added, further straining the system.

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“The world has changed in the last 20, 30 years. The client population of people in care homes has completely changed,” Fontaine said. “Someone coming in with Alzheimer’s or dementia [used to be] the exception. Today it’s the rule.”

To help tackle the worker shortage, Fontaine suggests providing tuition relief for people training to be care aids.

He also hopes to eventually see an apprenticeship-type program, where students could learn in the field while being paid.

“I’ve heard people say that maybe we need another research study or maybe we need to analyze something. The days for doing that were in the 1990s,” Fontaine said. “We’re long past the time when we need to analyze. We are right in the middle of the crisis, and it’s only going to get worse.”

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