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Better home support needed in order to delay long-term care: Seniors advocate

Report shows lack of progress since the pandemic, but COVID is not the root cause
Health-care workers talk with a man in a COVID-19 infected ward at Idola Saint-Jean long-term care home in Laval, Que., Friday, February 25, 2022. B.C. seniors advocate Isobel Mackenzie released the results Nov. 16, 2023 from her office’s second provincewide survey of thousands of long-term care residents and their family members – and it shows little progress since the pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

B.C.’s seniors advocate says long-term care needs a fundamental shift in its culture.

The seniors advocate Isobel Mackenzie released the results Thursday (Nov. 16) from her office’s second provincewide survey of thousands of long-term care residents and their family members. The main takeaway from this latest report, “Every Voice Counts,” is that not a lot has changed in the last six years.

And more money doesn’t solve it all.

“We have to fundamentally move away from telling people what to do, assuming we know what is best and listening to what people want and understanding that quality of life is not for me to decide for you, it’s for you to decide for yourself.”

People need more autonomy, she said. When seniors move into long-term care, they “surrender a lot of autonomy at the doorstep, and we have to be honest about that.”

She said in the past six years, funding for long-term care in the province has increased more than 45 per cent and staffing more than 10 per cent, but despite these significant investments, the sector hasn’t seen the amount of progress hoped for in elevating the quality of life for those who call long-term care home.

“The lack of progress, arguably, could be attributed to some areas to COVID, but the baseline for these things are not worse than they were before COVID.”

However, she said it’s difficult to quantify exactly how the pandemic hindered progress in long-term care.

The 2023 survey covered 297 publicly subsidized care facilities in B.C., with responses from more than 10,000 residens and nearly 8,000 family members and close friends, and the questions in the survey parallel one from 2016/17.

“They’re basically saying the same thing, first of all, that they said six years ago, so I don’t want to hear about how it’s because of COVID.”

Mackenzie’s office made eight recommendations in this report, including increasing: staffing levels, flexibility of scheduling and social connections for residents.

Overall, Mackenzie said about half the people surveyed said long-term care is “actually working quite well.” The residents

“They may not be getting a bath as frequently as they want. They may not like the food all the time, but overall, they’re not expressing great dissatisfaction. But the other half are having challenges in long-term care.”

That comes down to a need for increased hours. Mackenzie’s office is calling for the nationally recommended 4.1 hours of direct care per resident per day.

B.C. was once a leader in the amount of direct care at 3.36 hours, she said, but those needs have changed.

“While this 22 per cent increase may seem daunting, we have achieved as much in the past and we can do so again.”

Mackenzie is also calling for improvements for community-based services and home support as a way to ensure seniors don’t have to enter long-term care before it’s necessary. The first thing that needs to be done though is remove financial barriers.

About 40 per cent of residents do not want to live in their care home, but based on data, Mackenzie said some of those people would be able to continue to live at home with supports.

“We must ensure all options are exhausted before a person is required to move into long-term care - this will require changes to our home support program including the removal of financial barriers.”

Lauren Collins

About the Author: Lauren Collins

I'm a provincial reporter for Black Press Media's national team, after my journalism career took me across B.C. since I was 19 years old.
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