Seniors advocate calls for sick pay improvements, more staff at B.C. care facilities

·3 min read

VICTORIA — Forty per cent of British Columbia's long-term care staff who were surveyed by the province's advocate for seniors said they went into work at least once in the past year feeling sick, a report reveals.

Seniors advocate Isobel Mackenzie said Wednesday she considers expanding and improving sick pay benefits for care-facility workers the top recommendation of her report, which examined COVID-19 outbreaks from March 2020 to February 2021.

She said the report found B.C. long-term care and assisted living residents are three and a half times more likely to contract COVID-19 and 33 times more likely to die of the disease.

The review examined 365 outbreaks at 210 facilities, where there were 4,484 COVID-19 cases and 782 deaths.

Mackenzie said improving sick pay along with hiring more people to work at care facilities will ease the financial and workload burdens many staff at care facilities face.

"It is No. 1, I think, for COVID and a whole host of other reasons," she said at a news conference."We've got to hire people who work in long-term care and assisted living (who) stay home when they don't feel well."

More than 6,500 staff were questioned for her review. They reported their primary reasons for going into work, even though they felt unwell, were an obligation to their co-workers and the residents, that they felt pressured by their employer to attend or that they wouldn't be paid.

Staff reported they were concerned about infecting residents and their own family members, and reported their overall health and well-being was compromised by working through the pandemic, the report says.

"Every site experienced significant increases in overtime and those sites that experienced a large outbreak saw a 178 per cent increase in their overtime in the past year," The report says. "This speaks to the tremendous dedication of staff and management in caring for residents in long-term care and assisted living sites in B.C."

Mackenzie said sick pay benefits run from zero days to 18 days depending on where a person works and for which company or public agency.

"There isn't anybody out there, I don't believe, who thought they had COVID-19 and went to work," said Mackenzie. "There are people who didn't feel well, but they didn't think it was COVID."

The B.C. government is currently conducting a survey on sick pay ahead of permanent pay provisions due early next year.

Mackenzie's report recommends expanding paid sick-leave provisions, hiring more registered nurses, eliminating shared rooms and increasing the scope and frequency of COVID-19 testing.

Two other recommendations — mandatory vaccines for all staff and booster shots for residents — are in the process of being implemented.

Recent data posted by the province's Centre for Disease Control says there were 368 COVID-19 outbreaks at B.C. care facilities from January 2020 to September 2021 and 1,092 deaths of residents.

Mackenzie said while everybody has been affected by the ongoing pandemic, seniors, particularly those living in care facilities, have felt the deepest impact since they are disproportionately at risk of serious illness from COVID-19 or death.

B.C. has almost 40,000 seniors living in long-term care and assisted living at 487 facilities, says the report.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 6, 2021.

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

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