British Columbia

Pandemic exposed numerous 'vulnerabilities' in B.C.'s long-term care system, officials say

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed several serious issues with B.C.'s long-term care system, health officials say, and they're hinting some improvements are on the way.

Staffing, aging buildings are issues, but residents also need 'to live life', says health minister

B.C.'s health minister says quality of life needs to be a priority for residents of long-term care homes. (Lighthunter/Shutterstock)

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed several serious issues with B.C.'s long-term care system, health officials say, and they're hinting some improvements are on the way.

During Thursday's briefing, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix made it clear that some big changes are needed.

"What this pandemic has absolutely exposed is the vulnerabilities in many of our long-term care homes," Henry said.

"There's been challenges in staffing, there's been challenges in housekeeping, there's been challenges around aging infrastructure, and all of those can compound depending on the facility."

Those comments come as B.C. begins opening up long-term care facilities to some non-essential visitors after months of isolation for residents.

They also follow complaints from families with loved ones at one of the province's hardest hit care homes, North Vancouver's Lynn Valley Care Centre, about staffing shortages that have led to inadequate care, malnutrition, dehydration and poor hygiene.

Dix referenced provincial reports from 2012, 2016 and earlier this year about problems in the system, and said there is still "significant" work left to do.

"For example, there is increasing demand for care homes and you're going to see, in the coming weeks and months, action on that," he said.

He added that many facilities operated by provincial health authorities have not had renovations in decades, and there's a desperate need to train a new generation of health-care workers to provide direct care to residents.

But Dix said the "fundamental challenge" will be to shift the priorities of the long-term care system so that extending people's lives isn't the sole focus.

"We have to allow people to live life. This has been the profound contradiction and it's why restoring visits was so important," he said.

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