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Expect more troubling reports to come to light at B.C. seniors homes

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March 10, 2020 - 7:00 AM

Retirement Concepts is the largest private long term care company in B.C. and has the most trouble with authorities over how it runs its seniors homes.

But it’s not likely to remain the only problem company in the province, B.C.'s Seniors Advocate says.

“I think the issue that has developed at Retirement Concepts could develop anywhere else — potentially is developing in other locations — but hasn’t bubbled up to the same extent that it has at (Retirement Concepts),” Isobel MacKenzie told iNFOnews.ca. “It can happen because of the way we deal with the funding and oversight of the care homes.”

Retirement Concepts owns 20 care homes in B.C., five of which are currently under administrative control by their respective health agencies. That includes Summerland Seniors Village. It owns two other homes in the Interior — Kamloops and Williams Lake Seniors Villages.

There is also a B.C. lawyer trying to get a class action lawsuit approved against the company.

At the root of the problem, MacKenzie said, is the way the facilities are funded and monitored.

Her office audited the financial statements of 174 homes for 2017/18. All of them, whether private, public or run by non-profit groups, are paid a negotiated amount based on a target for them to provide 3.36 hours of care for each resident each day.

She published a report called A Billion Reasons to Care on Feb. 4 that outlines the funding problems.

At its core, the problem is that each facility reports a global figure on spending that allows for private homes to juggle the hours that are worked so they can make a profit without ever having to demonstrate that they’ve actually provided that amount of care to each patient every day.

There is no requirement, for example, to report the number of people working any particular shift or whether the care aids are also cooking and cleaning rather than attending to the needs of the residents.

That leads to chronic staff shortages in the private facilities that leads to a myriad of problems.

Some allegations included in the lawsuit are horrific, including:

Blondine Huebner, who died while living in the Waverly Seniors Village in Chilliwack in 2017. She had numerous falls while living there that culminated in what appeared to be an assault that she never recovered from.

Connie Beaton lived at the Gardens at Qualicum Beach in 2016 and 2017. According to the affidavit signed by her daughter, as soon as she was admitted the doctor was asked by staff to change her medication. That resulted in her being so sedated she could not walk. At one point she fell, broke her hip and was left lying on the floor in pain until the ambulance arrived, the affidavit said. On another occasion she used the intercom to call for staff to help her go to the bathroom and was told they were busy so she could just go in her pants. That led to bladder infections. At one point, the daughter was told not to call the doctor again because, perhaps, it was her mother’s “time to go.” She was moved to another care home and lived comfortably for the next few months.

Wayne Jackson moved to Comox Valley Seniors Village in Courtenay in 2017 with dementia. He suffered falls and a groin infection that became an “inflamed, open sore, oozing pus and releasing a stench which was sickening,” his wife Sharon wrote in her affidavit. From August to September 2019 he lost 10 pounds. Three months later, he was dead.

Russell Cooley went to live at the Nanaimo Seniors Village in the fall of 2017. He was admitted to hospital in October 2019 for a severe wound infection that never did respond to medication and he died less than two months later. During his two years in the care home, he lost 60 pounds. When admitted to hospital he was “emaciated and dehydrated,” the affidavit from his daughter said.

These are just a few examples from the affidavits signed by relatives of 15 different residents. None of them have been proven in court.

They all contain complaints about the lack of staff, cleanliness and numerous other ongoing problems with their relatives that were not dealt with despite repeated requests. More complaints are surfacing in the Interior, including some from workers at privately owned facilities not owned by Retirement Concepts.

One staff member at Haven Hill in Penticton — which is not owned by Retirement Concepts — reported to iNFOnews.ca, that 11 of 15 residents in one ward had the “Haven Hill Rash,” - which the worker believed was Scabies - for months in the winter and spring of 2019.

General Manager Alexander Cook denied that any confirmed case of Scabies occurred there.

The staff member also complained about chronic staff shortages that contributed to falls when residents were left alone.

Cook says they are meeting Interior Health’s staffing requirements through overtime but that there is a chronic staff shortage throughout the province.

“Mainly, there’s just not enough bodies out there that are qualified for this role,” he said. “A lot of the younger population don’t call it a “sexy job,” so there’s not enough people out there that are qualified.”

Not true, MacKenzie, the seniors advocate, said.

In fact, there are only 16 jobs in B.C. that are considered hard to fill, and half of them are in the Northern Health region.

The reality is that private care homes pay $6 to $7 per hour less for care aids than is done in the not-for-profit system, MacKenzie said. That allows private operators to make a profit but it also makes it hard for them to recruit and retain staff.

That also means that more staff in the private sector are inexperienced, which also impacts on the quality of care.

In the last 20 years, health authorities have only put eight long term care facilities under administrative control. Six of those were owned by Retirement Concepts, MacKenzie said.

And, while Retirement Concepts may be the worst example of the problems in the private sector, she’s expecting the problems to spread if the system isn’t changed.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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