A month after Sandra Cairns became a victim of COVID-19 at the Lynn Valley Care Centre, her family remains haunted by her final days.
“We couldn’t go there. We couldn’t hold her hand. We couldn’t tell her we loved her,” said Anita Coueffin-Cairns, holding back tears.
Cairns’ daughter-in-law said she called the centre repeatedly trying to get an update on the 80-year-old’s condition. After demanding to speak to manager, they finally learned Cairns hadn’t eaten in three days.
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“We knew it was the end of her life,” said Coueffin-Cairns. “It makes me wonder. Is the level of care less? I feel like it is.”
The family feels that Cairns, who once worked as a nurse, would want them to fight for change within the for-profit system. Coueffin-Cairns said the B.C. government needs to review senior care which has become the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic in British Columbia.
“They’re profit-driven and I think these seniors become more of a number,” she added.
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCAP) is renewing its call for the provincial government to make senior care the exclusive responsibility of publicly-funded or not-for-profit care centres.
The organization claims research shows the level of care at for-profit facilities is inferior to publicly-funded or not-for-profit alternatives.
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“These business practices are risky. They require staff to work at more than one site and as a result they’ve undermined wages and working conditions,” said Andrew Longsworth, a research analyst for CCAP.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry already identified this as a likely cause for cross-contamination of the virus between multiple facilities. Workers said it was a lack of wage parity that forced some to pick up shifts in more than one centre.
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Dr. Henry has since ordered care home workers to be limited to only one facility during the pandemic. The province is subsidizing the system to make all workers full-time staff with wage parity for a period of six months.
Longsworth said any dollar provided by the government will go further in a not-for-profit or publicly-funded facility.
“While the for-profits were short-changing governments, non-profits that were contracted by government were actually over-delivering,” Longsworth claimed.
The BC Care Providers Association fired back, Wednesday calling the timing of the CCAP’s push “shameful.”
“It is a partisan statement by an organization that has long-standing dislike for anything that’s private in healthcare,” said Daniel Fontaine, CEO for BC Care Providers.
Fontaine argues that while his association was among the first to push for wage parity and keeping staff working at only one facility, there is no proof that the spread of COVID-19 is worse within for-profit senior care centres.
“To make arguments that somehow that by having simply government-owned operations that there wouldn’t be any COVID is just beyond being ludicrous,” said Fontaine.
Samantha Monckton lost her father Garry to the virus. He was a resident at the not-for-profit Haro Park Centre.
Monckton said they specifically chose Haro Park because it was a not-for-profit. She added that having a system where some workers are scrambling to combine shifts to make a decent wage doesn’t equate to good seniors care.
“None of that makes sense that we should be treating our elders like that,” Monckton said.
When asked, B.C. Premier John Horgan said his party has been critical of the changes made to the long-term care system over the past two decades.
“I think some of the challenges we anticipated are being graphically highlighted during this time of pandemic,” the premier said.
He added that some of the changes made to address the pandemic will likely remain well after the current health crisis is over.
“There are range of things we’re learning right now through this pandemic that are going to change how we do business,” Horgan said.
Fontaine said this very well may be the case, and his members are always open to debate ways of improving the senior care system but this is not the time.
Anita Coueffin-Cairns said the weight of COVID-19 has exposed the cracks in the for-profit long-term care system. While her family does not have the closure, she thinks improving the care of seniors in Sandra’s name might help.
“She would say let’s make this right. Let’s not ever do this again. We can never go back to the way things were.”