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

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

U’mista Cultural Centre is closed to the public until further notice, as of Nov. 23, 2020. (Zoe Ducklow photo)
U’mista closed until further notice due to new restrictions

North Island on high alert against COVID-19

Port Hardy Rotary Christmas Float. (North Island Gazette file photo)
Rotary float returns to Port Hardy to spread much needed Christmas cheer

The Christmas Cheer Float is a festively decorated full-size semi-tractor.

Email letters to editor@northislandgazette.com and we will publish online and in print.
LETTER: Fish farms boost North Island economy

“… our local jobs, local taxation revenue, and the like will disappear!”

People wearing face masks to help curb the spread of COVID-19 cross a street in downtown Vancouver, on Sunday, November 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. reports 17 COVID deaths, 1,933 new cases as hospitalizations surge over the weekend

There are 277 people in hospital, of whom 59 are in ICU or critical care

An aerial shot of Cedar Valley Lodge this past August, LNG Canada’s newest accommodation for workers at the project site in Kitimat. This is where several employees are isolating after a COVID-19 outbreak was declared last Thursday (Nov. 19). (Photo courtesy of LNG Canada)
Forty-one positive COVID-19 cases associated with the LNG Canada site outbreak in Kitimat

Thirty-four of the 41 cases remain active, according to Northern Health

Brenda Schroeder thought she was reading it wrong when she won $100,000 from a Season’s Greetings Scratch & Win. (Courtesy BCLC)
New home on the agenda after scratch ticket win in Saanich

Victoria woman set to share her $100,000 Season’s Greetings lottery win

Workers arrive at the Lynn Valley Care Centre seniors home, in North Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday, March 14, 2020. It was the site of Canada’s first COVID-19 outbreak in a long-term care facility. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Rapid tests ‘not a panacea’ for care homes, Dr. Bonnie Henry says

B.C. lacks capacity for daily tests of thousands of workers

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

(Delta Police Department photo)
Cannabis edibles found in Halloween bag lead B.C. police to illegal lab

Delta police arrested a man and a woman while executing a warrant at a residential property Nov. 20

A woman being arrested at a Kelowna Value Village after refusing to wear a mask on Nov. 22.(@Jules50278750/Twitter)
VIDEO: Woman arrested for refusing to wear mask at Kelowna Value Village

RCMP claims the woman was uncooperative with officers, striking them a number of times and screaming

B.C. Liberal MLA Shirley Bond questions NDP government ministers in the B.C. legislature, Feb. 19, 2020. (Hansard TV)
Cabinet veteran Shirley Bond chosen interim leader of B.C. Liberals

28-member opposition prepares for December legislature session

Most Read