A worker is seen closing the curtains at the Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver, B.C., Wednesday, March 25, 2020. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced Wednesday that the province’s latest death is connected to the Lynn Valley Care Centre, where a majority of deaths in B.C. have taken place. Another 42 residents along with 21 staff members from this care faculty have also been infected. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

B.C. VIEWS: Pandemic shows need for adequate care home staffing

Seniors in B.C. care homes face challenging times

The current COVID-19 crisis is revealing gaps in our society that have been all too easy to ignore – the care of the elderly for example, and in particular, their vulnerability in long-term care facilities.

So far, nearly all the deaths in B.C. have been care home residents.

Of the 21 facilities affected by the virus in B.C., the worst hit is the Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver, which reported last week 70 cases among employees and residents.

Across Canada, the toll is higher, most notably in Ontario where 12 residents have died in one home alone. In Quebec, some 500 care homes have reported outbreaks.

The risk seniors face is nothing new. The threat of a viral outbreak is something care home staff, residents and their families brace for.

Compromised health of some residents and their confined living space makes them particularly susceptible to even minor influenza outbreaks. Like a spark in a tinder-dry forest, illness can spread quickly and with devastating results.

The novel coronavirus is proving far more deadly. Some estimates put the fatality rate for seniors who contract the disease at 15 per cent.

The impact extends beyond physical health. Residents in affected homes face isolation from family and friends at a time when they most need comfort and reassurance.

Senior health officials in both B.C. and the rest of Canada say they’re stepping up efforts to identify and contain outbreaks quickly. Yet, the challenges they face are ones that have been there for years.

Chronic understaffing has been a long-standing concern. As far back as 2009, the provincial government identified a staffing target of 3.36 hours per resident. By 2016, according to the Office of the Seniors Advocate, only 19 per cent of facilities had reached that goal.

Those targets still aren’t being met; meaning today there’s insufficient staff to provide the care that officials felt was optimal more than a decade ago – and that was under normal circumstances.

B.C. Medical Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has ordered facilities not to share staff in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus from one facility to the next. But given the scarcity of qualified personnel, that order has been difficult to implement.

Nonetheless, Dr. Henry remained confident last week that aggressive steps taken after the initial outbreaks to contain the spread of the virus within care homes were paying off.

Critical weeks and even months still lie ahead, of course. Frontline workers, already stretched thin, will be challenged to provide care and comfort under the most trying circumstances. Their dedication deserves to be recognized.

However, when we do emerge on the other side of this pandemic, questions will need to be asked. Prior to the outbreak, the health ministry had already taken over management of four private-run care homes in B.C. because of concerns.

Meanwhile, B.C.’s Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie released a report in February that cited lower pay and fewer dollars spent on patient care at for-profit care homes, versus non-profit and public care facilities.

Our seniors deserve better.

They and their families deserve the confidence that adequate staffing is in place – not just in normal times, but especially when they are at critical risk.

If that requires structural changes in the way we manage long-term care in this province, then that’s a conversation we must have.

Greg Knill is a columnist and former Black Press editor. Email him at greg.knill.@blackpress.ca

BC ViewsCoronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

$30,000 over 30 weeks for local causes

Send us your good stories and you could win money for your favourite cause

Columbia Shuswap Regional District office to begin phased reopening

Office will be open for four-hour days beginning next week

Flooding prompts closure of parks along Shuswap and Mara lakes

Boaters asked to respect No Wake policy protecting properties along water

Back in play: Columbia Shuswap Regional District reopening playgrounds

Signs with reminders about COVID-19 regulations will be posted

RCMP seek to identify person of interest in Salmon Arm arson investigation

Police believe a June 4 residential garage fire was deliberately set

‘I’m pissed, I’m outraged’: Federal minister calls out police violence against Indigenous people

Indigenous Minister Marc Miller spoke on recent incidents, including fatal shooting of a B.C. woman

Kelowna Mountie who punched suspect identified, condemned by sister

‘How did he get away with this? How is this justifiable?’

Vernon protesters take Black Lives Matter movement to park

A handful of demonstrators raised fists, signs in solidarity Friday

Police watchdog investigating Lake Country incident

A man was taken to hospital after the June 3 incident

Community backlash over Black Lives Matter rally in Kelowna

Some members of Kelowna’s black community stated they don’t support Friday’s rally

PHOTOS: Anti-racism protesters gather in communities across B.C.

More protests are expected through the weekend

Pair accused of ‘horrific’ assault at Vancouver’s Oppenheimer Park at large

Police say Jason Tapp, 30, and Nicole Edwards, 33, did not show up to meet their bail supervisor this week

Bear strolls into Okangan homeowner’s living room

Conservation officers are searching for the bear, which entered a home in the Foothills area

Most Read