BC should transition to 100% non-profit and public delivery of seniors care post-crisis: researchers

April 22, 2020

VANCOUVER — The coronavirus pandemic has shone a light on serious problems in Canada’s seniors care system and after the crisis the BC government should begin to transition away from its reliance on contracting with for-profit companies, say two Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives research associates.

Nursing homes quickly became the epicenters of the outbreak across the country not only because of seniors’ greater vulnerability to the disease, but also due to how care is organized and staffed, Kendra Strauss, Associate Professor and Director of Simon Fraser University’s Labour Studies Program, and health policy analyst Andrew Longhurst write on Policy Note.

“This crisis has exposed the long-term impacts of policies aimed at cutting costs and expanding the role of for-profit companies in BC’s seniors care sector, which has led to contracting out, precarious working conditions and low pay, understaffing and reduced access to publicly funded care,” says Strauss.

“The single-site public health order for long-term care and assisted living facilities is largely a response to the erosion of wages and working conditions that began in the early 2000s,” says Longhurst. “In mere weeks, the BC government is trying to fix workforce instabilities brought about over years of labour policy deregulation and business practices intended to drive profits. These policy decisions were championed by care companies and corporate chains. And once the current crisis is over, we simply cannot return to the status quo.”

“It is time for a ban on sub-contracting,” says Strauss, noting that the practice undermines employment standards that are preconditions for quality care. “Following the end of special COVID-19 measures, existing operators should be part of the public-sector master collective agreements if they are receiving public funding.”

Longhurst says that over the medium and longer term, BC needs to move boldly on a capital plan to start building new seniors care infrastructure and acquiring for-profit-owned facilities.

“BC’s longstanding policy approach has allowed corporations and their investors to build up large real estate portfolios on the public dime, while receiving public funding that assumes they are paying unionized wages when many in fact are not,” says Longhurst. He points to the BC Seniors Advocate’s recent review of the contracted long-term care sector, which uncovered underspending on direct care and worker wages by for-profit operators.  

Strauss and Longhurst call for immediate measures to improve transparency, public reporting and accountability in the seniors’ care sector—including implementation of the Seniors Advocate’s recommendation that public funding for direct care in contracted long-term care facilities must be spent on direct care only and to require standardized reporting in all facilities.

They also caution against using public funds to bail out over-leveraged seniors care corporations, noting that the impact of COVID-19 on international financial markets will be widespread and the BC government should be prepared for the possible financial collapse of for-profit seniors’ facilities and chains and should take them over.

“We have the evidence and tools to rebuild seniors’ care in our country,” says Strauss. “Many of us have been calling for this for some time and COVID-19 has revealed the urgency of doing so.”

To arrange interviews, please contact Jean Kavanagh at 604-802-5729, [email protected]