Care homes have been under stress in the COVID-19 pandemic, with visitors not allowed and a struggle to maintain adequate staffing and protective equipment. (Pixabay)

COVID-19: Stabilizing B.C. care home staffing to cost $10 million a month

Operator survey shows critical shortage of protective equipment

The B.C. health ministry is implementing its coronavirus staffing model province-wide to stabilize senior care and assisted living homes, starting with southwestern regions where COVID-19 cases have been detected in more than 20 facilities.

Restricting personal care aides to working in one facility only is “well advanced” in the Island Health and Vancouver Coastal Health regions, Health Minister Adrian Dix says, and work is underway this week in Fraser Health, B.C.’s largest health region by population.

Shifting many of B.C.’s 20,000 care aides from multiple part-time jobs to working in a single facility to reduce infection risk started with care aides in locations with confirmed COVID-19 cases among staff or residents. Taking the system B.C.-wide is expected to add $10 million a month to the staffing cost, which has non-profit and for-profit contractors as well as staff working directly for regional health authorities.

The changes are being made “within the existing blended service delivery model of health-authority owned and operated, affiliates and private providers,” accommodating employee preferences in where they work as far as possible, Dix said April 9. “And it ensures that all of them receive an equitable wage and scheduling stability so they can work at a single site without financial hardship or patient service disruption.”

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the risk has long been known, but is heightened now.

“This is something that we have recognized in public health from the very beginning of this outbreak, and indeed, recognized it from outbreaks that we have every year, whether it’s influenza or gastrointestinal outbreaks, or even anti-microbial resistant outbreaks,” Henry said.

Dix and Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie have pushed for improved working conditions for care aides, where there was a chronic shortage of skilled help before the coronavirus pandemic. Mackenzie issued a report in February showing for-profit operators spend significantly less on direct care than non-profit contractors, with 49 per cent of for-profit revenues going to care compared to 59 per cent for non-profits.

RELATED: For-profit senior homes spend less on direct care

RELATED: Seniors Advocate questions care home labour shortage

The province is also working to keep facilities supplied with personal protective equipment. A survey of senior care and community living operators released April 11 that 70 per cent were running low on surgical and N95 respirator masks, and half of the respondents expected to be out of eye protection gear by the end of the Easter weekend.

SafeCare BC, a health and safety association of providers, has launched Operation Protect to coordinate donations of equipment.

The staff situation became urgent with the discovery of a COVID-19 outbreak at Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver, where the virus spread to Lions Gate Hospital.

As of April 9, 30 of B.C.’s 50 coronavirus deaths have been recorded among residents of long-term care. Two of the affected facilities have been declared COVID-19 free, while 20 more are in outbreak protocol, with 143 residents and 92 staff members confirmed infected, recovering in isolation or being treated.

Dix said the ministry is working to implement Henry’s order with the Health Employers Association of B.C., the Hospital Employees Union and other unions, the B.C. Care Providers Association, Denominational Health Association and private employers.


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

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