(Note: reply from the MoH is below the BCRHN letter)
The Honourable Adrian Dix, MLA
Minister of Health
PO Box 9050
June 2, 2020
Dear Minister Dix,
I am writing on behalf of the members of the BC Rural Health Network to express my concern over the general state of seniors care and more specifically, the state of long term care in British Columbia.
Covid-19 has shone a spotlight on the appalling conditions in many Canadian long term care facilities that have led to the deaths of many of their residents. The pandemic crisis has identified serious flaws and gaps in the system and raises difficult questions: what will we learn from this experience and what are we going to do about it?
Although BC has not been immune to this problem, it has fared better than most other provinces. Beginning in 2018 with your government’s initiative to increase the direct care hours seniors receive in facilities, your government has shown their commitment to caring for BC seniors. The BCRHN applauds Minister Dix, working in conjunction with Bonnie Henry, Provincial Health Officer, for taking decisive action when BC reported its first Covid-19 death at Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver. The issuance of the single site order, the wage increase to unionized standards, and the guarantee of full time hours for LTC workers demonstrated the government’s resolve to improve the conditions of care by improving the conditions of work.
Stopping workers from becoming vectors for infection by working at more then one site is vital and must not stop here. It has been known for years that other dangerous infections that overwhelmingly affect seniors in care can spread from site to site by the same route (c. difficile colitis, for example). The BCRHN encourages the Minister to take steps to embed these important changes permanently into policy, ensuring that all BC seniors will be protected and receive the care they need and deserve, well into the future.
One of the disturbing facts that has surfaced as a result of this tragedy is that Covid-19 death rates are significantly higher in for-profit LTC homes as compared to publicly operated homes. In fact, depending on the province, for-profit LTC homes have between four and eight times as many deaths.
Concerns about the increase in the takeover of care homes in BC by foreign companies have been raised by many organizations over the past several years, including one of our member organizations in February, 2017. In a report sent to federal and provincial authorities in February 2017, the Support Our Health Care Society of Princeton stated that “The purchase of long term care facilities in BC by Anbang corporation has created a situation in which a foreign investment body sees an opportunity to maximize investment return – not an opportunity to improve service.” Three years later in February 2020, the Ministry of Health announced the takeover of seniors care homes owned by Anbang, citing failure to meet the standards of care. The message couldn’t be clearer, BC must put an end to the operation of LTC facilities by private, for profit companies.
The BCRHN recognizes that improved long term care is but one part of a more comprehensive plan that includes support for seniors receiving home care assistance and support for seniors in assisted living facilities. Our province is making good progress in this area as evidenced in the December 2019 report Monitoring Seniors Services by Isobel McKenzie, BC’s Senior Advocate. We encourage the Ministry to continue this important work.
In conjunction with the BC chapter of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the BC Health Coalition, the BC Rural Health Network makes the following recommendations:
- End profit-making in seniors’ care by transitioning to 100% not-for-profit and public ownership
- Create a capital plan that expands the capacity of public facilities to meet the needs of a growing seniors population
- Implement an alternative model of long term care that assures improved outcomes for social connectivity, physical activity, feeling of well being and self worth, and personal economic security
- Improve the conditions of care by improving the working conditions of long term care employees
- Make Family Councils obligatory, rather than optional, to increase family-led accountability and transparency and to serve as an early warning signal for unsafe care
- Recognize that home support services in combination with community-based seniors services are the first line of defence in providing support for seniors to remain in their own homes and communities longer
We would welcome the opportunity to discuss these and other issues as they apply to seniors living in rural and remote areas of BC. The BCRHN values community engagement and collaboration and we look forward to hearing your response to this letter.
Edward Staples, President
BC Rural Health Network
Reply from MoH re Seniors Care – June 2, 2020 letter
August 29, 2020
Dear Edward Staples:
Thank you for your email on June 11, 2020. I am writing on behalf of the Honourable Adrian Dix, Minister of Health, regarding the concerns your organization has raised about long-term care in BC. Your message has been directed to the Seniors’ Services Branch, as long-term care falls within our portfolio. I apologize for the delay in my response.
I would like to begin by thanking you and the rest of the BC Rural Health Network for the dedication shown in advocating for increased access to quality care for those living in remote and rural communities. Providing a safe, dignified, and fulfilling care environment for everyone in BC is a priority for the Ministry of Health (the Ministry).
As you have outlined, the Ministry has taken several initial actions in response to COVID-19. In collaboration with BC’s Provincial Health Officer, health authorities, and BC’s Seniors Advocate, actions taken have included a temporary pause on new admissions and facility transfers, restricting visits to essential visitors only, a temporary suspension of respite and adult day programs, and extending the period in which a resident can be absent from their long-term care home. These initial actions have aimed to limit the potential for COVID-19 being introduced into long-term care homes and were taken to better protect the residents and staff. The Ministry’s actions continue to evolve in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Ministry is committed to reviewing and strengthening how long-term care services are delivered in BC. The Ministry is considering the lessons learned through the experience of COVID-19 and its impact on seniors as well as the staff that care for them to inform positive changes in the system. The Ministry, as it moves forward, will engage with the Office of the Seniors Advocate and other stakeholders and associations who represent the home and community care sector on this important work.
The Ministry is engaged in ongoing work to improve monitoring and accountability across the long-term care sector. Standardization of funding for long-term care will be a significant step towards increasing the consistency of care across all providers and enhancing the accountability for delivering safe, quality care.
As BC’s population grows and ages, facilitating equitable access to long-term care services is of increasing significance to meeting Government’s commitment to delivering the services people rely on. The Ministry strives to improve and strengthen health services for seniors and other adults who have complex care needs and continues to focus on improving the range of supports available to people living in long-term care to ensure they receive dignified and quality care.
The Ministry greatly appreciates and values the efforts made by the BC Rural Health Network and other community members in advocating for the care of BC’s seniors.
Seniors Services Branch
Health Services Division