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Okanagan care homes demand action, declare emergency due to staffing shortages

Click to play video 'B.C. government urged to deal with serious shortage of care aides in the Okanagan and beyond' B.C. government urged to deal with serious shortage of care aides in the Okanagan and beyond
B.C. government urged to deal with serious shortage of care aides in the Okanagan and beyond – May 13, 2019

There is a chronic shortage of care aides in the Okanagan and provincial red tape is partially to blame, according to a B.C. industry association representing seniors’ homes.

The BC Care Providers Association says there are approximately 243 full-time equivalent care aide positions that are vacant in the B.C. interior.

That number includes 70 vacancies in Greater Kelowna, 30 vacancies in the South Okanagan and 39 vacancies in the North Okanagan.

The association says wages aren’t the problem, but blames the recruitment woes on barriers for out-of-province care aides to get the proper approvals to work in B.C.

“The Care Aide Registry requirements deter qualified workers in neighbouring provinces from coming to B.C. to care for our seniors,” says Daniel Fontaine, CEO of BC Care Providers Association (BCCPA) in a news release.

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Fontaine says a prospective health-care assistant must travel to Vancouver at their own expense to complete a credential assessment test.

“The provincial credential assessment process has a very concerning 99 per cent fail rate for everyone tested — including those who have recently graduated from certified public institutions in Alberta or Saskatchewan, or were trained as registered or licensed practical nurses outside of Canada,” says Fontaine.

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Fontaine says seniors requiring aide are being impacted by the staffing shortages at B.C. interior retirement homes.

The BCCPA has sent letters to B.C. Premier John Horgan and other party leaders calling on the provincial government to amend “restrictive provincial hiring policies” that it says deters certified health care aides trained in neighbouring Alberta and Saskatchewan to work in the Okanagan.

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“We are in the midst of a health human resources crisis in communities stretching from Kamloops, Salmon Arm, Vernon and right down to Summerland and Penticton, yet we refuse to treat it like a genuine crisis such as we do with wildfires and floods,” adds Fontaine.

“Seniors deserve to know the care will be there when they need it, regardless of where they live in our province. Unfortunately, that is at risk in the B.C. Interior.”

Okanagan care homes are also sounding the alarm.

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“The performance between a health-care assistant educated in Alberta and one educated here in B.C. is commensurate. To arbitrarily maintain barriers to recruitment, as the sector faces shortages like we have never experienced before, does not serve the best interests of seniors,” says Lynda Foley, a vice-president with Park Place Seniors Living.

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“We would welcome and support the removal of barriers to allow us to recruit staff from all available avenues, including qualified staff from Alberta,” says Julius van Wyk, president and CEO of the The Good Samaritan Society.

The Association previously told Global Okanagan there are plenty of training spaces available for care aides at B.C. institutions. The program takes six months to complete and the starting wage is around $20 an hour with benefits.

A request has been made to the BC Ministry of Health for comment.