KAMLOOPS — When the needs of an elderly family member become too complex to care for at home many families turn to care homes, trusting in the promise of around-the-clock care and safety.
However, understaffing has thrown B.C. care homes into a state of crisis, and that 24/7 care is no longer a guarantee.
"Due to chronic underfunding we know that nine out of 10 senior care homes do not meet the government's own minimum staffing levels," said Hospital Employees Union Vice-President Barb Nederpel. "But here in Kamloops, out of the seven facilities, none of them meet those levels."
Nederpel says B.C. care homes do the best they can with the staff they have, but everyday routines that would be deemed necessary to most can end up slipping through the cracks.
"Imagine the indignity of not being able to go to the bathroom when you need to, or not having a bath, or even having a drink of water when you're thirsty," Nederpel said. "Those times when you're scared, you're confused, or you just need somebody there for you, there's no one. That's heartbreaking, not just for the resident, but for their family, and for the workers that care for them."
Understaffing also puts residents at risk of assault and injury.
In 2015, 84-year-old Emily Houston died from injuries inflicted on her by another resident at Kamloops Seniors Village.
The province recently filed a lawsuit against the facility, claiming negligence in its failure to adequately supervise residents.
But, it's not just the residents who are at risk.
"Care staff tend to have the highest rate of acts of violence against them," Nederpel said. "Care aides specifically, the ones who provide the most care, they have the highest rates of injury out of any profession in this province."
As the understaffing crisis continues in care homes across the province, the Hospital Employees' Union has relaunched their Care Can't Wait campaign, hoping to get the attention of the B.C. government.
"What we need is an immediate investment in front-line staff, and we want to make sure that there's accountability to make sure those resources don't go into profits or into administration," Nederpel said.
As per provincial government guidelines, B.C. care homes are required to provide 3.36 hours of direct staffing care per day.
Nederpel hopes B.C. residents will contact their local MLAs to demand the government meet that standard.
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