Inadequate staffing is a leading contributor to seniors not leading more socially engaged lives in B.C.’s public residential care facilities, according to a new survey commissioned by the Office of the Seniors Advocate.
“While staff overall are caring and respectful, consistent feedback is that there simply are not enough staff to ensure residents’ needs are taken care of when they need to be,” Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie said in the survey’s conclusion.
“Inadequate staffing leads to inconsistency among care aides and ultimately an erosion of important interpersonal interactions between staff and residents.”
Mackenzie said the survey results don’t reflect a residential care system that is failing overall, but rather a system of care with room for improvement in many areas.
Daniel Fontaine, executive director of the BC Care Providers Association, said he was encouraged by the survey’s findings coinciding with what his organization has been advocating for regarding seniors’ residential care dating back to 2014.
But Fontaine said he was disappointed the survey report doesn’t quantify recommendations with any dollar figures or a timeline for implementation of any changes.
“Now that we have these recommendations, the question is how do we act upon them?”
Fontaine said the BCCPA said a commitment of funding is already in place for the biggest care improvement price-tag option, increasing direct care hours per day per resident from 2.8 to 3.36, which adds up to a $500 million funding infusion announced earlier this year by former premier Christy Clark.
The BCCPA has also put forward the creation of a Seniors Quality Of Life Fund, created by a $100 per senior/per month funding mechanism, to provide carehome residents increased culinary options, occupational and recreational therapy and social interaction activities.
He said his organization is looking ahead to the 2018-19 budget set by the new NDP government for an indication of the priority for funding seniors’ residential care.
“I think seniors’ care goes beyond partisan politics. There are very few things that you get everyone to agree on but seniors’ care is one of them,” Fontaine said.
Cindy Kozak-Campbell, Interior Health executive director for seniors’ residential services, said they are still evaluating the data collected from the survey, but she called it an invaluable tool in moving forward.
“It’s the best information we’ve had to date from the perspective of residents and their most frequent visitors,” Kozak-Campbell said.
“The seniors advocate office was able to bring together 800 volunteers across the province who worked a total of 25,000 hours to complete this survey. It would be really difficult for us to do the same kind of in-depth survey because of the resources required to do it.”
Kodak-Campbell said seniors living in residential care facilities today generally require 24/7 nursing care and have complex care needs. Twenty years ago, people were living in long-term care homes who were able to live independently.
She says that change in mentality is a reflection of a growing desire from government and people themselves to live healthier lives and remain in their own homes longer before the need arises for specific health care attention in the final years of their lives.
She said the issue of seniors in congregate care living lonely, isolated lives is something caregivers are looking to create more options to try and alleviate.
“That is an issue that goes beyond staffing. When you have a situation where someone is coming to the end of their life, most of their friends are no longer around or passed on and you may be living in a different community at that point, it is difficult to sometimes make connections or make new friends,” she said.
So recreation or leisure programs are one way to bring residents together who share common interests, she noted.
She cited one example in the Kootenays where a local elementary school class comes to a seniors’ home on a regular basis and meets with the residents.
“Building these kinds of programs and associations is one way to help address building better personal connections,” she said.