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B.C. seniors in private care homes more likely to die in hospital: report

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The report found seniors in private facilities are more likely to end up in hospitals where they're more likely to die

The report says the pattern is pronounced but the reason is unknown

VICTORIA (NEWS 1130) — The latest report from B.C.’s watchdog for the elderly shows many patients in private care are ending up at hospitals where they’re 54 per cent more likely to die than if they were living at a publicly-run facility.

Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie says private contractors are also 32 per cent more likely to send a patient to an emergency room for care.

“We have found a very clear and pronounced pattern,” she says. “We don’t know why it’s happening, but it’s happening.”

Mackenzie says more research is needed, but she wants to know if some private contractors are saving money by refusing to take patients back when hospital staff call to send them home.

“And for 15 days, you don’t have to care for them, you don’t have to feed them, but you still get the same amount of money. It’s a reasonable question to ask whether that is providing an incentive to send people to the hospital. I’m not saying it is, but it’s a question we need to ask,” MacKenzie says.

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Her report suggests more than $16 million could be saved every year if seniors weren’t occupying more than 15,000 hospital beds, but Daniel Fontaine with the BC Care Providers Association says the 16-page report is “flawed.”

“We have not been able to assess and determine yet whether or not these facts are actually consistent and actually are what is happening out there in the field,” he says, noting the report excluded a number of care homes.

“We know that rural and remote areas were excluded. We deserve to be a bit caution around the information that’s coming out.”

Fontaine, who speaks for most private operators in the province, is also suggesting Mackenzie’s findings may be politically-motivated.

“We’ve seen some of the commentary coming out of the office about private providers that is markedly different from where it was even a couple of years ago.”

Right now, 70 per cent of nearly 28,000 seniors at homes subsidized by the BC government are in private care.

Mackenzie says she’s requested more data from private operators, but claims she’s not getting it.

Pay difference

The report also focusses on pay difference, Mackenzie says some of the private contractors are not paying staff as much as public operators.

“We know that we pay operators the money to pay higher wages and if they don’t pay the higher wages, we let them keep the money. You get paid even when they’re in the hospital,” she says.

While Fontaine admits some contractors don’t pay as well as public counterparts, he is rejecting any suggestion that staff at private facilities are poorly compensated.

“There’s nobody that’s working as a care aid that’s making minimum wage. On average, a care aid in the province of B.C. makes, between their wages and their benefits combined, about $33 an hour.”

Health Minister responds to report

While he’s still reviewing the report, Health Minister Adrian Dix says he’s determined to work with Mackenzie to make sure all seniors get the best care possible.

“Those beds, whether they’re public or private, I expect people to be treated well,” he says.

“We inherited the situation from the previous government, that’s what’s reflected in this report and we know that those seniors currently in care were being short-changed by the previous government.”

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But the opposition’s critic for seniors care — Joan Isaacs — insists there’s no proof the quality of care at privately-run homes is worse than those managed by public operators and she’s worried Mackenzie’s report “needlessly” makes families question the quality of care a relative is getting.

“So, I think we have to get all the stakeholders at the table. We need to have choices and we need — as families — to be able to choose suitable locations for our loved ones,” he says. “We all want to get to solutions where we can free up emergency rooms and hospital beds. It’s very cost ineffective. What are the possible resolutions that we could put forward? I’m happy to sit at the table with all of them.”

Dix says improvements made in recent months include the hiring of more care aides and boosting overall funding for seniors.