Leader of B.C. Greens wants to phase out private seniors care operators

B.C. Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau wants to end public funding for private long-term-care homes, give greater powers and independence to the province’s seniors advocate, and provide care workers with better pay and benefits.

During a campaign stop in Beacon Park in Sidney on Thursday, Furstenau said the care-home sector needs to shift away from the for-profit model to a high-quality mix of public, non-profit and community-based care, including co-operatives.

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“Our seniors are not a commodity that should be earning some investor profit,” said Furstenau. “They are our parents, our grandparents, our aunts and uncles. They are the leaders in our community.”

Furstenau could not say how much the B.C. Greens’ plan would cost, saying it would not be insignificant. “Seniors care is a very expensive part of our health-care budget.”

On Wednesday, NDP Leader John Horgan announced a $1.4-billion plan to build more long-term care homes, end multi-resident rooms and continue to top up the wages of care workers in seniors homes. The standard wage was raised to about $25 for all workers in public and private facilities to ensure workers stick to a single site, to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The initiative is costing the government about $10-15 million a month.

Both Horgan and Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson have said a mix of public and private long-term care is needed. But Furstenau asked why British Columbians would give public money to private companies that deliver profits to shareholders, pointing to problems with privately owned care homes in the province.

By February of this year, B.C. health officials had taken temporary control of four Retirement Concepts private care homes for failing to provide proper care to residents — in Victoria, Nanaimo and Courtenay in the Island Health region, and in Summerland in Interior Health.

Health authorities were running 31 per cent of the 1,641 publicly-funded beds in Retirement Concepts’ facilities, which are operated by an affiliated B.C. company, West Coast Seniors Housing Management. Retirement Concepts was purchased by a Beijing-based holding company, Anbang Insurance Group, in 2017.

In a report in February, B.C. seniors advocate Isobel Mackenzie said for-profit providers failed to deliver 207,000 hours of care that the government paid for, while not-for-profit operators delivered 80,000 hours more care than what they were contracted for. Private-sector operators disputed Mackenzie’s report.

“It’s really important that we that we identify how public money is being spent in particular in the for-profit sector and that we ensure that public money is going directly to the care of seniors and people in long-term care,” said Furstenau.

Citing what she called systemic problems in seniors care, Furstenau said B.C. Greens would like to see the seniors advocate made an independent officer of the B.C. legislature, instead of reporting to the minister of health. That would make the role similar to that of the representative for Children and Youth, who conducts independent reviews and investigations.

The B.C. Greens, if elected, would also ensure that care workers are recognized as health-care professionals and establish wages and benefits in conjunction with the Health Employers Association of B.C., said Furstenau.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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