Daniel Fontaine, the CEO of BC Care Providers Association, said the organization is hoping to explore some new solutions to the ongoing care aide shortage in the Okanagan.
“The model that we have right now for getting care aides into the system is broken. And because the problem is most-acute in the Interior Health region by a country mile compared to the other health regions, we want to try some innovations here,” said Fontaine.
Fontaine just finished his Listening Tour in the Okanagan that stopped in five city centres–Kamloops, Salmon Arm, Kelowna, Summerland and Penticton–to meet with senior health care providers, local elected officials and Interior Health leadership. He said the idea to tour the area came as a result from ongoing concerns from local members of the BC Care Providers Association.
“Our members in this region kept saying to me, ‘Are we doing enough on health resources? We don’t have enough staff. We can’t recruit.’ so all of these kinds of conversations were happening for the better part of a year. So I thought to myself that I need to go in and hear firsthand from the care centre staff and the management,” said Fontaine. “So then we said if we’re going to come in let’s start in Kamloops and Salmon Arm and then end in Penticton.”
Fontaine said his tour was incredibly successful and that he had multiple fruitful meetings with industry partners to better understand the problems in the senior care industry in the Okanagan. He said that while the industry is in a “crisis”, it is not widely discussed among the public.
“I asked them, ‘What’s your number one issue?’ and without exception every single care provider said it is the health human resource crisis. And they feel that, to paraphrase what I’ve heard, when you have something like wildfires and a crisis like that, the government mobilizes. It get’s action and money and firefighters out,” said Fontaine. “But with something like this, I kind of refer to it as more of a silent crisis. It’s happening out of the view of the public, so as a result it’s still very much a crisis but it’s not getting very much attention.”
Fontaine said he also heard that “old, traditional methods” of attracting workers to the industry are not working and that the association and its partners need to “think outside the box”. He said the association, in partnership with Interior Health, is hoping to implement a couple pilot internships at care homes in the area that would allow future care aides to avoid the expensive cost of tuition and receive hands-on trainging in the industry. Fontaine said this isn’t necessarily reinventing the wheel since Interior Health used to offer a program like that just over a decade ago.
“We can’t assume that people will come into the colleges and be trained as a care aide. Now we’re looking at a situation where we have an aging demographic and there’s fewer people coming into the work force in general,” said Fontaine. “Unemployment is at three or four per cent and people have multiple options now as to where they can work. And there’s not really an awareness that they can work in health care–it’s not an area you hear a lot about.”
Fontaine also noted that those that are certified health care professionals in other countries that are trying to certify as care aides in B.C. face an uphill battle when it comes to testing. He said the care aide testing for people with health care certifications in other places has a 90 per cent fail rate.
While David Gutscher, the general manager of The Hamlets in Penticton, an assisted living facility, said they currently “are one of the lucky few” that do not have a staff shortage, he recognizes that this is a problem plaguing other facilities. He said he works with local colleges, such as Sprott Shaw, which offer the health care aide programming and makes it a priority to visit their campuses and chat with the students about the industry and provide advice.
Gutscher said he was in a meeting with Fontaine and Interior Health members earlier this week and volunteered The Hamlets to participate in the pilot internship program, pending its approval by the government.
Fontaine said the association put forward a four-part plan to benefit the senior care industry by recruiting workers to the BC Ministry of Health but it has yet to gain any traction. He said phase one involves “marketing and awareness” to let people know of the available jobs, phase two focuses on “barrier elimination” such as offering tuition assistance or EI for students, phase three is “training and phase four is “job placement” in which the sector would create an online job board to match graduates with open positions. Fontaine said Health Match BC, a free health professional recruitment service, recently received “a couple million dollars” and have reached out to BC Care Providers to potentially launch a province-wide marketing campaign, which covers phased one of the proposal.
“It’s not like when Starbucks can’t recruit a barista so you’re coffee might be a bit slower in getting to you. When we can’t recruit a care aide it means that when someone is pushing a call bell, nobody is there responding,” said Fontaine. “It might mean that your grandma or grandpa don’t get a bath that week. That’s how critical it is, if we don’t get this right in terms of recruitment and senior care.”
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