British Columbia

Half of British Columbians in care facilities have low sense of social engagement

The province's first survey of social engagement in residential care facilities revealed that nearly half of seniors in care homes lack initiative and social involvement.

'I think there is some room for improvement there,' says the province's advocate for seniors

In 2016-2017, 48 per cent of residents scored “low” on the social engagement scale in all B.C. care facilities. (Shutterstock)

The province's first survey of social engagement in residential care facilities across the province revealed that nearly half of seniors in care homes lack initiative and social involvement.

The Office of the Seniors Advocate revealed that 48 per cent of residents across all facilities scored "low" on the Index of Social Engagement.

It means they scored between 0 and 2 on the index's six factors:

  • At ease interacting with others.
  • Pursues involvement in the life of the facility.
  • Accepts invitations to most group activities.
  • At ease doing planned or structured activities.
  • Establishes own goals.
  • At ease doing self-initiated activities. 

Isobel Mackenzie, who leads the province's Office of the Seniors Advocate, said the measurement was inexact, but showed the number of residents with low social engagement was nearly double those with severe cognitive impairment.

"I think there is some room for improvement there, and hopefully now we've started to measure it, we can look at the issue."

The results were part of the office's 2016/2017 survey of 293 publicly-subsidized residential care facilities, and included the opinions of 20,000 residents and their caregivers. 

Not meeting staffing requirements

The survey also showed that 85 per cent of B.C.'s residential care facilities did not meet the government's staffing guideline of 3.36 hours per resident.

The average across the province was 3.14 hours, with a gap of about 20 minutes between public care homes (funded for an average of 3.35 hours) and contracted facilities (funded for an average of 3.01 hours).

"Now it is true, [public facilities] are caring for more complex clients than contracted facilities, but I think we can all agree that probably some more immediate remediation on these hours needs to be focused on contracted providers."

It was an improvement from the previous year's survey, when 91 per cent of facilities failed to meet the provincial guideline. 

But the Hospital Employees' Union, which represents about 20,000 residential care staff across the province, says it's a clear signal that more staff need to be hired. 

"When there are not enough staff on shift to do their jobs to the highest possible standard, seniors and those who provide their care are put at risk," says HEU secretary-business manager Jennifer Whiteside in a statement.

"We clearly need to fast-track plans to improve staffing levels," says Whiteside.

"At this pace, it will take at least another six years before 50 per cent of care homes receive enough funding to meet minimum guidelines. We must do better."

The B.C. NDP and Green Party pledged in the agreement that helped bring the NDP to power last summer to "ensure the staffing of public and private care homes meets government guidelines, and provide additional funding to address staffing levels in public facilities."