British Columbia

Advocate says B.C.'s nursing home policies are too old

After a two-year investigation into long-term senior care homes in Ontario showed a startling increase in elder abuse, a seniors advocate says B.C. is no stranger to those kinds of problems.

'The staffing levels and the protocols that worked decades ago are not working now'

Seniors advocate Wanda Morris says policies and regulations in B.C. nursing homes need to change in order to meet the needs of residents with complex cognitive issues. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

A representative of Canada's largest senior advocacy association says British Columbia's elder care system is out of date and isn't able to service the increasing number of people living in long-term care homes.

"It's just heartbreaking," said Wanda Morris, vice-president of advocacy at CARP, formerly known as the Canadian Association of Retired Persons.

"We have a care system that was developed decades ago and yet the population in long-term care has changed so significantly," she said.

Morris's comments come after a year-long investigation by CBC Marketplace revealed a dramatic increase in incidents of abuse inside long-term seniors care homes.

"The staffing levels and the protocols that worked decades ago are not working now," Morris told Lien Yeung, guest host of CBC's B.C. Almanac.

Morris said that in B.C. alone there is a long list of issues in care homes that her organization is working to fix.

Most urgent for Morris is the practice of using antipsychotic medication to "chemically restrain" individuals. 

Staffing issues

She said the practice can be used as a measure to save on staffing costs, but it leads to confusion in some residents and can increase their chance of death by almost 40 per cent.

"It's a lot easier to look after residents with a few staff if the residents are all zonked," said Morris. 

In September of last year, B.C.'s Office of the Seniors Advocate released a report that examined long-term senior care facilities.

The report — which came after a two-year project involving 22,000 people living in such facilities — made several recommendations, the first of which was an increase in staffing levels.

In terms of resident-on-resident aggression in B.C. care homes, the office released an earlier report that estimated 422 incidents of aggression occurred in 2015, and that 40 per cent of cases involved hitting another resident.

That report recommended that resident-on-resident aggression be defined and tracked the same way across all residential care facilities and at a provincial level.

Jane Meadus, a staff lawyer with the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly, said her organization has heard numerous stories of residents being illegally detained, left in bed for days, living in unsanitary conditions, or assaulted.

"There's nothing worse than getting a call from a family member, telling you how they walked into a room and found their family member being assaulted," said Meadus.

"We have people crying on the phone every day."

Morris said B.C. struggles with two issues, one being that there are no regulations outlining mandatory minimum staffing levels in care homes.

The second issue is that there is an increasing number of residents with complex needs.

She said these cases of aggression highlight the need for staff to go through behaviour support training so they are better equipped to serve residents.

"Often when a resident is acting out, it's some unmet need they are trying to get addressed," said Morris. "If they don't get it addressed they'll often act inappropriately or even aggressively."

Morris added that while behavioural support training is critical for care workers, there are no mandatory training requirements for staff in B.C.

With files from B.C. Almanac