Low wages, few job openings driving B.C.'s care worker shortage, not lack of staff: seniors advocate

The shortage of care works for seniors in British Columbia is a well touted statistic but what remains in dispute is how to solve the problem.

Isobel Mackenzie criticises new report by B.C. Care Providers Association about shortage crisis

Isobel Mackenzie, B.C. seniors advocate, is concerned the B.C. Care Providers Association's new report is misdirecting the conversation about shortage of care workers. (CBC)

The shortfall of care workers for seniors in British Columbia is due to a lack of job openings and poor wages, says the province's seniors advocate, who has criticized a recent report by the B.C. Care Providers Association.

The association recently said the shortage of staff has reached a "crisis" level, and warns that the province will need more than 2,800 more full-time care workers in the next three years.

But Isobel Mackenzie says the report does not go to the root of the problem. 

"The report talks only about demand and doesn't talk about supply," says the B.C. seniors advocate.

"The question is, why is there not enough staff? If there is not enough staff because we are not appropriately funding it, that is a different solution than if there is not enough staff because no one wants a job in care homes."

By 2031, approximately one in four people in B.C. will be over the age of 65. The number of seniors at least 80 years old is expected to double between 2011 and 2036. (Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Promoting careers in care 

The report lists 10 key recommended steps for the provincial government, including investing in an awareness campaign to promote the care sector as a career.

Mackenzie says the problem is not a lack of workers, and cited an increase in the number care aides of about 14 per cent over the last three years. Instead, it's a lack of full-time job openings and fair pay, she told Chris Walker, host of CBC's Daybreak South.

Many private facilities, funded by health authorities, regularly offer wages that are several dollars an hour less than the province's master collective agreement and "pocket the difference," Mackenzie alleges.

She's calling for payroll audits.  

"I'm becoming increasingly concerned around the lack of financial oversight of the billion dollars a year that flows from public government coffers out to the private sector to care for our most frail and vulnerable people," Mackenzie says.  

Isobel MacKenzie criticises new report by the B.C. Care Providers Association about shortage crisis 11:29

Recruitment challenges

Daniel Fontaine, the CEO of the B.C. Care Providers Association, disputes Mackenzie's claims and says there is a significant amount of oversight in the health industry already.

"There are individuals who come in from the health authority on a regular basis and check the books, the books are completely open," he says. "There is not an issue on that front."

Fontaine says recruitment is an ongoing challenge, particularly in rural and remote areas, even among companies offering competitive wages. 

"If it were simply as easy as just saying 'everyone pay master collective,' the problem would be solved," he says.

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix agreed with the findings of the report in an earlier interview with the CBC and says the province will be taking measures to support recruitment of workers.

"Step one in doing that is training more care aides and that's what we're doing in every part of the province," Dix said.

CEO of the Care Providers Association responds to criticism from B.C. seniors' advocate. 13:01

With files from Daybreak South and David French

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