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Horgan Pledges $140 Million a Year to Improve Seniors’ Long-Term Care

Unions welcome campaign pledge; Green leader says NDP ‘tinkering around the edges’ instead of offering real change.

Andrew MacLeod 1 Oct 2020TheTyee.ca

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria and the author of All Together Healthy (Douglas & McIntyre, 2018). Find him on Twitter or reach him at

NDP Leader John Horgan provided more details of his party’s plans for seniors’ long-term care Wednesday, promising more money for public facilities and higher standards for private ones.

BC Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson expressed skepticism about the NDP’s vision and Green Leader Sonia Furstenau dismissed it as tinkering, but the head of a union representing workers in the sector says the NDP is on the right track.

“The outbreaks in seniors’ care facilities at the beginning of the pandemic were a direct result of BC Liberal choices,” Horgan said during a campaign stop in Surrey.

After 2001 the BC Liberals had slashed taxes for wealthy people, paid for the tax cuts by reducing services and introduced policies that allowed employers to drive down the wages of workers in long-term care, Horgan said. “It led to profound impacts that came home to roost during COVID-19.”

In many cases, workers had to take jobs in more than one facility to cobble together enough hours to make a living, a situation that became an issue during the early months of the pandemic as workers carried the virus between homes.

The majority of COVID-19 deaths in B.C. were in long-term care homes and 25 per cent of residents who caught the virus died.

Horgan said the government followed public health advice to limit workers to one facility and increased wages in the sector to make that possible — moves that restricted the spread of the virus.

Now Horgan is promising to spend $1.4 billion over 10 years to replace multi-bed rooms in public facilities owned by provincial health authorities. An NDP media release promised “new, better public long-term care homes, instead of handing hundreds of millions of dollars to for-profit corporations.”

The release said the NDP promised to continue paying workers the same higher wages and benefits after the pandemic ends and to make private operators deliver the care they are paid to provide by making them “more accountable for the public dollars they receive.”

The Liberal government had introduced standards for the sector, but failed to ensure they were met, Horgan said.

“When we formed government in 2017, nine out of 10 care homes in British Columbia were not meeting the minimal standard that the BC Liberals had put in place.”

BC Liberal Leader Wilkinson said that when the NDP announces plans stretching over 10 years, as it has previously with housing and $10-a-day childcare, it’s doubtful they’ll deliver on their promises. “I’m very skeptical of NDP visions because they usually turn out to be mirages,” he said.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry was right to stop people from working at multiple facilities, Wilkinson said. “I think we all know in the long- term care space there are some people who choose to work part-time and in multiple facilities and that has proven to be a problem during the pandemic because of the risk of carrying the virus back and forth between different facilities.”

Green Leader Furstenau also criticized the long timeline on the NDP announcement. “That’s another example of how the other parties really just want to tinker around the edges of the problems that we have,” she said. “We need to look at systemic change.”

Long-term care has long been a victim of short-term thinking, Furstenau said, adding she plans to release the Green party’s position on the sector later today.

The president of the BC Government and Services Employees’ Union, Stephanie Smith, said the NDP plan addresses many of the concerns the union hears from frontline staff. The union represents some 5,000 workers in the sector.

“We’re really pleased with the announcement,” she said. “He really hit on the key points that we’ve been raising — ensuring that wages are family supporting and allow people to look at this as a long-term career, providing expansion of beds and resources — so we’re very pleased with the announcement.”

The government was on the right track before the pandemic and the election and Wednesday’s announcement showed they had a plan for the future, Smith said.

The Hospital Employees’ Union, whose membership includes some 20,000 people working in seniors’ care, also supported the government’s direction.

“The government took swift action to top up wages and forestall an even greater crisis,” secretary-business manager Mike Old was quoted in a media release. “Now they are moving to provide a level playing field for seniors and workers, which will help stabilize working and caring conditions over the long term and protect those critical care relationships.”

Old is filling in for Jennifer Whiteside, who is running for the NDP in New Westminster.

The BCGEU wants for-profit long-term care facilities phased out of the sector and commissioned a poll that found the vast majority of British Columbians agree with that direction.

But Smith said it was unclear from Horgan’s announcement whether an NDP government would move away from for-profit seniors’ care.

Horgan said more detail is coming when the party releases its full platform. But so far he’s signalled there is room for both public and private operators in long-term care.

“We need private operators and we also need to redouble our efforts to create public spaces, whether it be for childcare, whether it be for long-term care,” he said. “I believe there can be a healthy mix, but those who are in the business for profit need to make sure they’re meeting minimum standards, and money that is transferred from the public to private providers needs to come with certain standards.”

The BCGEU poll also found that most British Columbians are paying attention to long-term care issues and 80 per cent say it will be a factor in how they vote Oct. 24.  [Tyee]

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