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Seniors’ advocate wonders if fines would help end crisis in care homes

Isobel Mackenzie speaks at long-term care crisis town hall meeting in Nanaimo
Isobel Mackenzie, B.C. seniors advocate, was in Nanaimo on Saturday to speak about her office’s Better Seniors’ Care report. (Karl Yu/News Bulletin)

A Nanaimo woman speaking at a town hall on the crisis in long-term care says her father spent his final days in avoidable suffering.

Norma Steven said her father, Russell Cooley, died last November after being admitted to hospital with a “deep ulcerated, infected wound on his buttock.” He didn’t suffer from dementia and used a wheelchair and required extended care because of “severe arthritis.” It is Steven’s belief that he could have lived “happily a few more years” with better care.

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“Arthritis was not the cause of his death … Instead of experiencing compassion and the expertise that is essential for the well-being of long-term care residents, my father was robbed of the time and the little pleasures that were left for him,” said Steven. “He was robbed of any human dignity by being routinely left unbathed for weeks. He was robbed of human dignity by being left in a wheelchair and unchanged from soiled undergarments.”

Steven said her family made suggestions to staff at Nanaimo Seniors Village, asked questions and offered to help. The situation has to change, she said.

She made the comments Saturday during a town hall meeting in Nanaimo hosted by Seniors in Care Crisis, a group concerned about quality of long-term seniors’ care.

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In recent months, the B.C. government has assumed control of Retirement Concepts facilities across the province, including Nanaimo Seniors Village, due to what the government says is an inability to meet provincial care standards.

Isobel Mackenzie, B.C. seniors’ advocate, cited her recently released report on the contracted long-term care sector in B.C. when addressing the audience at Saturday’s gathering. One of her findings was that while non- and for-profit care homes receive the same level of public funding on average, non-profits surpass direct-care hour targets by an extra 80,000 hours. For-profits fail to deliver 207,000 direct-care hours for which they are funded, the report said.

Revenue from government is guaranteed and there is no financial penalties for non-compliance, said Mackenzie, and she wondered if there should be.

“I drive very, very carefully on the highway now because I know that if you exceed the speed limit, you are financially penalized … We have to look at whether it is now time to do financial penalties for, what I could call, consistent and persistent non-compliance,” said Mackenzie. “It wouldn’t replace the ability to put in an administrator, but I think some of the people in this room are probably asking themselves if certain operators had been starting to receive fines of $2,000 a day, would they have been able to find a remedy before the need to put an administrator in place?”

Oversight and transparency are also needed, Mackenzie said, starting with public reporting of the expense reports that she reviews.

”I think that that would drive a lot of change because people like you would demand it and you would be armed with factual information to back up what you are experiencing,” said Mackenzie. “Because I think that is one of the frustrations that a number of people … have. When they talk to the care home, they get explanations and they initially are satisfied with the explanations because they sound reasonable, but if you have the context and the information, you might realize that explanation is not that reasonable.”

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Retirement Concepts was contacted for comment, but has not responded yet.

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Karl Yu

About the Author: Karl Yu

After interning at Vancouver Metro free daily newspaper, I joined Black Press in 2010.
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