B.C. Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie in Terrace at the Happy Gang Centre on Oct. 15, 2019. (Brittany Gervais/Terrace Standard)

B.C. seniors’ watchdog calls for better oversight after recent problems at Retirement Concepts care homes

‘There is no financial incentive right now to be a good operator’ - Isobel Mackenzie

B.C.’s Seniors Advocate says the way care homes are regulated needs to change to ensure the large corporations that own many facilities do what they are supposed to be doing with public dollars.

“There is no financial incentive right now to be a good operator,” Isobel Mackenzie told The Progress in a recent interview following ongoing complaints about the Waverly Seniors Village in Chilliwack.

“Good operators, bad operators get the same pay.”

• READ MORE: Chilliwack’s Waverly Seniors Village deemed a ‘high risk’ facility by Fraser Health

While there has been an outpouring of criticism from family members of residents at the Waverly, as well as anonymous comments from current and former employees, it’s far from the only facility run by Retirement Concepts that’s under scrutiny.

As the largest chain of seniors’ homes in B.C., Retirement Concepts is owned by the Chinese government. The chain is owned by Anbang Insurance Group, which was taken over by the Chinese government in February 2018 after the company’s founder was sentenced to 18 years in prison for fraud.

• READ MORE: 21 retirement homes in B.C. now ‘owned’ by Chinese government

The Retirement Concepts facilities are managed by Canada-based West Coast Seniors Housing Management (WCSHM). That company’s chief operating officer Jennie Deneka said the reason they are unable to meet all licensing requirements in all instances at the Waverly is because of an industry-wide staffing shortage.

“There is in fact a staffing crisis in the seniors care sector in this province, and as the largest provider, certainly it impacts us,” Deneka said in an emailed statement. She pointed to a press release from the BC Care Providers Association from October 2019 that said there was a “health human resources emergency” in the province.

She said part of the issue is a lack of affordable housing, and the company has taken the extraordinary step of housing staff in dedicated wings of some homes in Summerland, Comox and Nanaimo.

But Mackenzie calls this a manufactured crisis, pointing to the fact that Retirement Concepts pays care aides between $6 and $7 an hour below the industry standard, and that is why they can’t find staff.

Indeed in Chilliwack, the Waverly, the only Retirement Concepts property, has by far the worst inspection reports of any home in the city, which tells Mackenzie that other facilities are able to find staff.

For Mackenzie, it’s the lack of monitoring and financial oversight and transparency that is plaguing the long-term care system.

“Contracted long-term care homes cost taxpayers almost $1.3 billion a year, and it is important to examine the levels of accountability, monitoring, and financial oversight in one of the largest contracted sectors within government. The public needs to know whether contracted long-term care homes are meeting the needs of both residents and taxpayers,” Mackenzie said in a press release that accompanied her new report, “A Billion Reasons to Care.

Among the flaws Mackenzie identifies is that there is no mechanism for a health authority to issue fines to bad operators, leaving these large chains with no financial incentive to pay higher wages or even follow through with proper care of the seniors in their homes.

The system in place pays these companies a sum of money to operate. They report back on what they did with the money, but there is no mechanism to examine where the money actually went. So if, for example, a home is given $6 million and they spend $4 million, the corporate entity keeps $2 million in profit.

“What I do think we do need is a regulatory structure that would allow the health authority to go in and start putting more pressure on operators and I think you would [do that] through financial penalties when they are constantly and persistently failing to meet the standards,” Mackenzie told The Progress.

“If we had been able to say at a certain point, ‘we are going to begin fining you $1,000 a day,’ they might have corrected themselves,” Mackenzie said.

There have been calls for Fraser Health to at least do that, appoint an administrator at The Waverly, something health authorities have already done at other Retirement Concept properties.

Summerland Seniors Village is the latest to be taken over by the health authority after Retirement Concepts could not meet provincial care standards.

Selkirk Seniors Village in Victoria had an administrator appointed by Island Health in December, and Nanaimo Seniors Village was taken over after a November report found staffing and management issues leading to neglect. Comox Seniors Village had an administrator appointed Sept. 30, 2019.

But that is not in the works for the Waverly at this time.

“At this time, Fraser Health currently has no plans to appoint an administrator to manage Waverly Seniors Village,” a spokesperson told The Progress Wednesday. “We will continue to monitor the situation and work with Waverly Seniors Village to ensure residents are receiving the proper care.

“Fraser Health expects licensees to follow all legislative requirements, such as staff qualifications, criminal record checks, supervision, adequate staffing, programming, furnishings and equipment.”

• READ MORE: B.C. takes over another Retirement Concepts senior care home

Health Minister Adrian Dix told reporters in Victoria Monday how disappointed he was about the need to take over some Retirement Concepts facilities.

“I can’t tell you how disappointing this is,” Dix told reporters in Victoria Monday. “This is in some ways the ultimate step we can take to protect the interests of seniors and other residents of long-term care facilities. We take it extremely reluctantly and based on progressive actions by chief medical officers of health.”

Retirement Concepts and the provincial government also now face a class action lawsuit alleging neglect and abuse at numerous facilities, but all starting at The Waverly.

See www.theprogress.com in the coming days for more on this lawsuit.

– with files from Tom Fletcher


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