Home care spread thin, seniors’ advocate says

Growing number of seniors outpacing home care services, Health Minister Terry Lake acknowledges

B.C. Seniors' Advocate Isobel Mackenzie

Health ministers across Canada say expanding community and home care is the best way to serve a growing senior population, but total home care hours declined last year in three out of five B.C. health regions.

That’s one of the findings in the first annual report on seniors’ services by B.C. Seniors’ Advocate Isobel Mackenzie.

Despite growing senior populations across B.C., the report found the total hours of home support delivered to clients was down four per cent in Vancouver Island and Vancouver Coastal health regions, and down 11 per cent in the area served by Northern Health.

Fraser Health, the largest region by population from Surrey through the Fraser Valley, had a seven per cent increase in hours in 2014-15, the fiscal year that ended last March. Interior Health, including the Okanagan and Kootenays, saw a five per cent increase.

Mackenzie said there has been an increase in seniors served by home care workers in most regions, but the hours received by each has declined. She said the data on hours reflects what she has heard from seniors around the province, who report that their home care services are being reduced.

“That validates to a large extent what people are saying, which is ‘I can’t get meal prep, they cut my bathing, they cut out my housekeeping’,” Mackenzie said.

Health Minister Terry Lake, who emphasized the need to move away from the acute-care hospital model to community and home care at a recent health ministers’ conference in Vancouver, said the report is “a snapshot,” but acknowledged there is more work to do.

Lake said the 11 million hours of home care support provided last year is up 35 per cent since the B.C. Liberals took office in 2001, and the number of clients served is up 29 per cent.

“Despite the fact that we’ve seen a significant increase in hours and budget, the demographics are such that we are falling behind here a little bit,” Lake said in an interview. “I think this is a good early warning system to tell us, we need to do a bit more in this area.”

Lake added that the new federal government has made a commitment to invest more in home health care. He said he is encouraged by Mackenzie’s finding that 96 per cent of B.C. seniors have a regular family doctor.

The B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union said Mackenzie’s report “paints a picture of a system that is headed in the wrong direction.”