Ombudsperson reports seniors health care falls short

Local seniors' advocate urges others to speak out about state of seniors care

Local senior Henry Hall is encouraging others to speak out to government in regards to a recent report on the state of seniors care in British Columbia.

The Lac la Hache resident has been a B.C. Old Age Pensioners Organization (O.A.P.O.) regional director for the past four years.

Ombudsperson Kim Carter’s second report on seniors care in the province was released earlier this year with 143 findings and 176 recommendations, and Hall says now is the time for seniors to voice their opinions on addressing these issues.

The report to the Ministry of Health, Ministry Responsible for Housing and five regional health authorities resulted from Carter’s investigation into home and community care issues, home support, assisted living, residential care and fair treatment of seniors.

Among numerous aspects, Carter reviewed the requirements of seniors care staff, and found some workers were afraid to speak up when they saw evidence of abuse and neglect.

Hall says staff should have no hesitation in reporting abuse or neglect and must not suffer any ramifications from doing so.

Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett agrees protocols are needed for confidential reporting, given Carter’s findings about staff hesitance.

“That’s sad, that truly is. If the workers are afraid to speak up, then there has to be a be a better system put in place.”

She notes there are other anonymous toll-free phone lines for victims’ assistance or reporting crimes, so something similar may be needed.

However, Barnett explains a provincial elder abuse prevention identification and response plan will be in place by December 2012.

She adds a new risk assessment tool for residential facilities to provide a more accurate indication of potential risks to quality and safety, with an established process for compliance enforcement, will also be implemented by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, Carter found seniors in care could pay up to 80 per cent of their income, providing they have $325 remaining for themselves.

Hall says if a senior is in a residential care, they may need less money for themselves, but for those in care at home, that might not be sufficient to hire the extra help they need.

“There are a lot of things [in-home care workers] are not allowed to do, and that’s ridiculous.”

Hall explains health-care workers can’t remove stale food from a refrigerator, for example, or extend the amount of time based on their immediate assessment of the senior’s needs at the time.

“They haven’t got time to really talk to the seniors [and determine their needs] in the length of time they have allotted. And, a lot of these seniors are all by themselves.”

Barnett says the 80 per cent of income care cost applies to people in residential care, and funding depends on what they need.

“There are other hardship programs you can apply into, and … I’ve heard of very, very few that if they are short a bit are not taken care of.”

Carter found subsidized long-term home support and services for independent living expended by Interior Health Authority in 2009/10 decreased to 582,632 hours, from 919,999 in 2007/08.

Hall says that has almost been cut in half over the three years, which should be remedied, particularly after all the years these seniors paid taxes into government revenues.

“Right now, the provincial government is just interested in having no deficit for the next election.”

Carter also recommended standardized training and registration for community health workers.

Halls says he “certainly agrees” with that, and has his own suggestions.

“I think they should go back to training the nurses in the hospitals, and not in the universities.”

Carter’s full Best of Care Report (Part 2) and a summary of the resulting investigation she has launched can be downloaded online at www.ombudsman.bc.ca/seniors.

See related story on page A6.