BC FORUM News - From The Advocate, Autumn, 2019
Hope for home support
By Stephanie Smith,
President, B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union
After a lifetime of working, paying taxes, raising families and making countless contributions to society, less than 60 minutes a day is all we are giving back to most B.C. seniors requiring support to live at home. It’s shameful, and a problem that weighs heavily on the minds of many as the province’s population aged 65 and older expands. But the home support system wasn’t always this way.
The serious decline began in the early 2000s under the then newly elected B.C. Liberals. They passed laws that paved the way for increased health care privatization as well as contract-flipping, which typically involves mass layoffs or forcing employees to reapply for jobs they already have. These dramatic changes were rushed through the legislative process and sold as a way to “increase flexibility” and enable more “cost effective and efficient ways” of delivering services. The new laws also weakened the rights of unionized workers and more than 9,000 experienced healthcare professionals — mostly women — were laid off so that companies could get away with paying lower wages. In turn, low pay and diminished labour rights led to the erosion of working conditions as well as chronic issues with recruitment and retention.
Seniors, their families and community health care workers were left to struggle within an increasingly fragmented home support system. Privatization and the push for profit reduced hours of care and made it difficult for workers to piece together even part-time schedules. Care plans, which outline the services seniors can expect, remained inflexible, resulting in situations where meal preparation is limited to taking a wrapper off a sandwich — to say nothing of how frail seniors ensure food is in the house or the dishes are washed. Too many times I’ve seen our members fight back tears describing the heartbreak of having to leave struggling seniors to fend for themselves because client visits are all too brief.
But now, there is hope. As a result of the provincial government’s decision to bring home support services back into the Fraser, Vancouver Coastal and Vancouver Island Health Authorities, we can begin putting the pieces back together and create an integrated and better coordinated system. That’s because a public service delivery model will reduce redundant administrative costs, facilitate a team-based multidisciplinary approach to care, and create more stable working conditions for care professionals.
For seniors this means getting the help they need from a team of care professionals. This shift is already underway in the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island where two transitions are in process and community teams are being created. In the longer term this will result in better continuity of care, and allow more seniors to age in place, at home.
Those who have profited from privatized services, and hoped to make millions more as demand swells, are unsurprisingly opposed to this transition. But with myriad reports and gloomy statistics piling up about a sector in crisis, family members in distress as they attempt to fill in the gaps, and workers sounding the alarm year after year — our government has listened.
There is a mess to clean up, but for the first time in 20 years I am hopeful for the future of home support. Let’s take a moment to celebrate finally turning this corner, and look forward to a modernized and holistic system that truly serves the people’s needs. We owe it to the workers on the front lines and to seniors, who deserve to be treated with respect and age in dignity.
The BCGEU represents 6,000 home support workers in B.C. About 3,500 will be transitioned to health authorities.