Laurie Macdonald

Laurie Macdonald

Critics say seniors’ health care model fails patients

NANAIMO – Wexford Creek seniors' facility is the third facility to terminate employees in the last six months.

Island Health’s public-private residential care system isn’t working and care providers and patients are paying the price, critics say.

The Good Samaritan Society recently terminated more than 122 employees at Nanaimo’s Wexford Creek seniors facility, claiming chronic underfunding from Island Health.

It is not the first facility  on Vancouver Island to announce major changes to staff. Within the last six months, New Horizons in Campbell River has issued pink slips to 120 Hospital Employees’ Union members, while 268 were laid off at the recently sold Sundridge Place in Duncan.

All three buildings are part of a public-private partnership Island Health started in 2008.

According to Norm Peters, director of continuing health services contracts with Island Health, it’s not easy to conclude a seniors’ care provider contracted out services because the health authority isn’t paying it enough. He believes the model is viable, pointing to financial and care successes of Comox Valley Seniors Village, which is a product of a 2008 P3 partnership.

But critics, like Hospital Employees’ Union spokesman Mike Old, say the fact that several facilities on Vancouver Island recently flipped contracts or contracted out services to save money shows just how unviable the model is.

Massive staff turnovers  also affect the economy, job stability and seniors, who lose consistency in care, they say, adding it’s time for the health authority to consider changes to its model for residential care.

“Clearly the model is not working,” Old said. “Vancouver Island Health Authority has a responsibility to deliver care, to monitor the care being delivered in these facilities, but their message seems to be pay the workers less money because we are not prepared to fund you at adequate levels and that’s really unacceptable because it’s causing such chaos on the ground in these facilities, for the seniors who live there.”

Island Health recently came under fire by the Good Samaritan Society, which said it is not providing adequate funding for residential care. The not-for-profit says it has lost millions because of chronic underfunding, prompting it to call for a $710,000 boost to its base budget.

Island Health has refused, putting the responsibility to find cost efficiencies in the hands of the Good Samaritan Society.

But when P3 providers are struggling across Vancouver Island, Terlson questions how much responsibility Island Health should take.

Critics with the province’s health-care unions say it’s time for change.

Affiliate and private facilities across B.C. are contracting out labour as they look to manage budgets, which decreases morale among staff and prevents consistency in care for seniors, according to Jo Salken, Pacific Rim regional chairwoman for the B.C. Nurses Union.

The issue, she said, can be traced to the B.C. government which is providing less to health authorities for services, prompting everyone to search for efficiencies.

Recent staff turnovers are the next phase and “everybody is kind of following suit and going yeah, we need to contract out services because we just can’t afford the labour,” Salken said, adding the recent layoffs on Vancouver Island could be just the start.

Old is also concerned about seniors’ care, pointing out that consistent care is linked to quality of life for seniors who rely on health-care workers to address intimate daily needs. He is also “appalled” Island Health has proposed contracted care as a cost-cutting measure to Wexford Creek.

“Clearly they are trying to save money at the cost of seniors’ care,” he said, adding the authority should monitor its model, reconsider building more P3 facilities and look at running facilities itself. “Right now the health authority has basically washed its hands of responsibility for what is actually going on. They are just telling these businesses that they’ve contracted with to deliver their care, to cut their costs through contracting out. It’s not really a solution at all.”