According to Doctors of BC (formerly the BC Medical Association), one million British Columbians are providing 70 to 75 per cent of care for family members or friends living with disease, disability or aging-related challenges.
For many, providing that care means cutting back on work hours, maybe even quitting their jobs, resulting in challenging financial dilemmas. Employment Insurance (EI) offers “compassionate care” benefits (up to six months at 55 per cent of previous income) which only helps those who pay into EI through their employer. This program is also underused because people are either not aware of it or struggle to navigate the bureaucracy.
Barb MacLean, executive director of Family Caregivers of BC, said, “With our aging population, it’s something we need to pay attention to. We need to plan better care.” B.C. Seniors Advocate Isobel MacKenzie agreed in her latest report titled “Home Support – We Can Do Better.”
One issue is that government subsidized (public) home support is unaffordable for most seniors: 72 per cent of seniors aged 85 or older have medium- to high-complex or chronic conditions, yet only 16 per cent are receiving subsidised home support services.
Almost one third of family caregivers are in distress, with 82 per cent of those clients receiving less than two hours of service a day. Sixty-one per cent of those admitted to long-term care received no home support during their previous three months. In addition, 4,200 long-term care spaces are taken up by seniors who could be in assisted living or living at home if they had adequate home support.
The good news is the advocate’s recommendations are taken seriously by the Ministry of Health, no matter which party is in power.
Recommendation on affordability: remove current financial barriers, extend the earned income rate-cap to all home care recipients, or examine a more progressive system similar to Fair Pharmacare.
Community health workers (CHWs) should be allowed to do more than only health-related work for the client, such as cleaning, full meal preparation, assisting with phone orders, laundry, bathing, watering plants and taking out garbage.
Family caregivers need to be supported with a minimum of eight hours respite per week if needed and ensure families are informed of available supports like home care services, adult day care and respite programs.
Home support requires a sufficient and skilled workforce. The working conditions for CHWs are wanting on many levels. The need for a car and working split shifts creates challenges in recruitment and retention, resulting in a high percentage of casual and part-time jobs. They make $5 less per hour than a BC Ferries cashier.
The recommendation is for health authorities to work collectively through the Health Employees Association BC (HEABC) to examine incentives necessary to successfully recruit and retain CHWs. Incentives could include paid training, increased compensation and stable part-time, as well as full-time, positions.
Other possible solutions outside of government include insurance companies developing caregiving benefit plans that workers and/or employers could pay into as part of a benefits package, single seniors sharing housing (like the Golden Girls idea), or seniors seeking condominiums that offer health and wellness services. The advocate’s full report is available at seniorsadvocatebc.ca.
ML Burke retired from the health sector to work on issues such as affordable housing. She sits on the Delta Seniors Planning Team, the BC Seniors Advocate’s Council of Advisors, and Delta council’s Community Liveability Advisory Committee.