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

(Black Press Media files)
‘Potentially damaging’ winds expected in Metro Vancouver

Wind is expected to pick up late Sunday night

Bella Coola RCMP are alerting residents that the road between 4 Mile subdivision and downtown will be closed until at least tomorrow. (File image)
Missing man found safe, Surrey RCMP said

Riley Arnold- Higgenbottom was last seen at 1:30 p.m., Nov. 28 in the 18900-block of 69 A Avenue

Tanvi Pandhi, a Grade 12 student at Fleetwood Park Secondary, took part in the Surrey school district’s survey of students in grades 10 to 12, with a focus on health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo: Lauren Collins)
Surrey students voice concerns about mask wearing, distancing in schools

Surrey school district has been surveying students in grades 10 to 12

(Photo: Amy Reid)
VIDEO: 2020 Community Leader Awards recognize Surrey’s unsung heroes

They don’t often receive recognition and don’t necessarily have a high profile in the community

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

A Canadian Pacific freight train travels around Morant’s Curve near Lake Louise, Alta., on Monday, Dec. 1, 2014. A study looking at 646 wildlife deaths along the railway tracks in Banff and Yoho national parks in Alberta and British Columbia has found that train speed is one of the biggest factors. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Study finds train speed a top factor in wildlife deaths in Banff, Yoho national parks

Research concludes effective mitigation could address train speed and ability of wildlife to see trains

A airport worker is pictured at Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C. Wednesday, March 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Canada extends COVID restrictions for non-U.S. travellers until Jan. 21 amid second wave

This ban is separate from the one restricting non-essential U.S. travel

Langley RCMP issued a $2,300 fine to the Riverside Calvary church in Langley in the 9600 block of 201 Street for holding an in-person service on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020, despite a provincial COVID-19 related ban (Dan Ferguson/Black Press Media)
BREAKING: Langley church fined for holding in-person Sunday service

Calvary church was fined $2,300 for defying provincial order

The Abbotsford Police Department is investigating a shooting on Adair Avenue on Saturday night. (Photo by Dale Klippenstein)
Drive-by shooting in Abbotsford targeted home with young children, police say

Investigators believe home was mistakenly targeted by assailants

Menno Place. (Google Street View image.)
B.C. care home looks to hire residents’ family members amid COVID-19-related staff shortage

Family would get paid as temporary workers, while having chance to see loved ones while wearing PPE

(File photo)
Vancouver police warn of toxic drug supply after 7 people overdose at one party

Seven people between the ages of 25 to 42 were taken to hospital for further treatment.

A man walks by a COVID-19 test pod at the Vancouver airport in this undated handout photo. A study has launched to investigate the safest and most efficient way to rapidly test for COVID-19 in people taking off from the Vancouver airport. The airport authority says the study that got underway Friday at WestJet’s domestic check-in area is the first of its kind in Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Vancouver Airport Authority *MANDATORY CREDIT*
COVID-19 rapid test study launches at Vancouver airport for departing passengers

Airport authority says that a positive rapid test result does not constitute a medical diagnosis for COVID-19

Most Read