Private care home group demands seniors advocate resign over alleged union influence

B.C.'s private care home industry is demanding that the seniors advocate resign over allegedly inappropriate influence on a report critical of private care home operators.

The B.C. Care Providers Association says Isobel Mackenzie should step down after emails and text messages obtained in a freedom of information request showed she was in contact with the Health Employees' Union before the release of an August 2018 report.

That report found "underperformance" at private care homes compared to public ones — including how seniors who live in private homes are more likely to be hospitalized, sent to emergency rooms and die in hospital.

The emails released Thursday show Mackenzie was sending info on the report's methodology, rollout and redrafted passages with officials from a union representing health care workers in B.C.

CBC

The association's CEO alleged the emails show a "cozy relationship" between the advocate and the union that hurts private care home operators and gives a leg up to the union.

But Mackenzie strenuously denied allegations of improper behaviour, saying the association is simply unhappy that her work found flaws with their facilities.

'Picking winners and losers'

Association CEO Daniel Fontaine called the emails "very concerning" when it comes to the advocate's role as an independent voice for seniors.

"We were … absolutely in the dark on this," Fontaine said. "That should be concerning to the public when you see an independent body that is picking winners and losers and determining who should get access to information and who should not."

But Mackenzie denied that in an interview with CBC Radio One's On The Coast.

She said the association was "fully briefed" on the report  before it came out in June, received a briefing on it from the Fraser Health authority and was also given a copy.

"They've chosen a report that they don't like," Mackenzie told guest host Jason D'Souza. "They've chosen to zero in on that report and not talk about the other reports that they've been involved in, that they've been consulted on, some of which the unions haven't been consulted on."

She said the suggestion the union was involved in drafting the report is "not accurate."

Daniel Fontaine

She said sharing the content of reports with some stakeholders or members of an opposition party is common practice.

In the past, Mackenzie said she has shared content from reports that are favourable to the B.C. Care Providers Association in advance and not with the Hospital Employees' Union.

Not stepping down

Mackenzie said she has no intention of stepping down and Health Minister Adrian Dix said he stands by her.

He called the association's demand for Mackenzie to step down "profoundly disproportionate."

"Over the last five years she's done lots of important reports. She's been critical of the current government, of the previous government, of the care providers, of the unions, of everybody and her advocacy has had, I think, some positive effect," Dix said.

"She's an advocate and sometimes that means she criticizes people."

But Fontaine believes the emails show a problem with the current advocate's independence.

The B.C. government has decided to move more than 4,000 home support jobs from the private sector to public health authorities and he accused Mackenzie of failing to press the government on that decision.

"It'll make us all better, I think, if there are some critical questions of labour and government and the sector," Fontaine said.

"I'm hoping that the seniors advocate, whoever that next seniors advocate is, will actually be vocal and ask those tough questions."