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Chronic staffing shortage, low wages to blame for Summerland seniors home woes: HEU

Chronic staffing shortage, low wages to blame for Summerland seniors home woes: HEU

Gail Mac said she has left the B.C. Interior’s Summerland Seniors’ Village in tears over the inadequate care her 94-year-old mother with dementia has received.

Unexplained bruises, missing items from her mother’s room and delays in receiving a custom wheelchair are just some of the complaints Mac has filed with the long-term care facility.

“It is really heartbreaking, it is just heartbreaking to leave and wonder if she is getting the proper care,” Mac told Global News. “I leave here in tears at times but I think it is going to be good now, I think things will maybe get straightened around with IH (Interior Health) taking care of it.”

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On Monday, the Interior Health Authority (IHA) announced it is placing the private, for-profit 112 long-term care bed facility under temporary government management because the home has not met the “legislated standards of care” for its vulnerable residents.

READ MORE: Interior Health takes control of seniors home in Summerland due to concerns of inadequate care

An inspection report, completed on Feb. 10 2020, outlined concerns about staff sleeping on the job, missed medications and incomplete shift reports.

In 2019, an inspector noted an employee left a person in care in bed until approximately 12:30 p.m. and did not change dressings or provide mouth care.

In another incident, an employee provided people in care with “Boost” drinks in their rooms, rather than a meal in the dining room.

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An Okanagan care home is going to unusual lengths to cope with a severe care aide shortage in B.C.
An Okanagan care home is going to unusual lengths to cope with a severe care aide shortage in B.C.

The Hospital Employees’ Union (HEU), which represents approximately 100 employees at the Summerland Seniors Village, blamed the problems on a chronic staffing shortage caused by low wages.

Jennifer Whiteside, the HEU’s secretary business manager, said the starting wage at the Summerland facility is $19.41/hour, which is $6 less than the starting rate at a public care home.

“There is a chronic problem with unfilled vacancies, so they are having trouble recruiting care aids and LPNs at Summerland Seniors Village, and what happens when they can’t maintain a stable staffing structure at the facility, is that the folks who are working every day, day in and day out, providing care to the seniors, don’t have enough hands on deck, don’t have enough resources to make sure that they can provide all of the care that the seniors need,” she told Global News on Tuesday.

READ MORE: Interior Health says care improved at Summerland Seniors Village

It’s the fourth care home in B.C. owned by Retirement Concepts to be placed under administration by provincial health authorities since September.

Seniors homes in Comox, Nanaimo and Victoria are under control of the Vancouver Island Health Authority, due to similar concerns.

The provincial government is now running 31 per cent of the long-term care beds Retirement Concept owns across B.C.

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READ MORE: Several Vancouver Island senior homes under renewed scrutiny

The federal government approved the sale of Vancouver-based Retirement Concepts, one of the biggest senior care providers in B.C., to Chinese insurance giant Anbang in 2017.

In 2018, the Chinese government accused Anbang’s chairman of financial crimes and took direct control of the company.

Retirement Concepts is now owned by a Chinese holding company, making accountability more difficult, Whiteside said.

“It’s much more difficult when the ownership structure is far less transparent and is offshore, so adding that element in is troubling,” she said.

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

Whiteside said problems across the long-term care sector have arisen since the province started privatizing and contracting out long-term care in 2001.

“There is a direct connection between the way in which our contracted operators are functioning, the business model and the crisis that we are in,” Whiteside said.

READ MORE: Ottawa ‘screwed up’ when it greenlit sale of B.C. retirement homes to Chinese company: UBC prof

“So we need system change, everybody has got to come to the table, we need to rebuild a standard, we cannot continue to have the workers that provide the care and the seniors suffer at the expense of a completely fragmented and deregulated system.”

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said he will hold the company responsible, calling the recent developments concerning and unacceptable. He said he will meet with the holding company and its administrators “as soon as possible.”

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How long you’ll wait for long-term care in B.C. depends on where you live
How long you’ll wait for long-term care in B.C. depends on where you live

“It’s our expectation that those running Retirement Concepts, who used to own it, and those who own Retirement Concepts will start to take some responsibility,” Dix told reporters on Monday.

“In the meantime, we are doing what we have to do to intervene to protect the interests of seniors.”

Summerland Seniors Village is operated by West Coast Seniors Housing Management, which has not returned a request for comment.