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Private seniors’ care facilities, opponents draw battle lines on Sunshine Coast

A meeting is planned to discuss a new Sunshine Coast seniors' care facility that would be run by a B.C.-based for-profit, private operator.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

Opponents of a proposed residential-care facility to be run by a for-profit operator on the Sunshine Coast are gearing up for a public meeting on April 30, saying they aren't convinced the project is the best way to provide more seniors' care in their region.

"This proposal will do nothing to rectify the chronic shortage of long-term care beds on the [Sunshine] coast," Ian McClatchie, a member of the Protect Public Health Care coalition, said on Monday. "And we have concerns also about the quality of care in for-profit facilities [compared with] public facilities," he added.

"From the outset, we've been kept in the dark about decisions that will deeply affect our loved ones – including staffing levels and the fate of the current facilities, and that has been very stressful for families." The proposed building's proponent insists it would provide a high level of care. The coalition sprang up last year to respond to proposed changes to seniors' care on the Sunshine Coast. It spearheaded a petition against the project that was presented to the legislature in March.

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The planned meeting, to be held in Sechelt, follows months of controversy over a plan to replace two existing facilities – Totem Lodge and Shorncliffe, which together provide 108 units – with a new, 128-bed facility that would be called the Silverstone Care Centre and run by the Trellis Seniors Services, a B.C.-based for-profit, private operator.

The regional health authority, Vancouver Coastal Health, intends to have a contract for 125 beds in the new facility. It also comes amid ongoing debate in British Columbia over the issue of privatized seniors' care.

The issue flared up recently when privately held Retirement Concepts gave notice to VCH to end a contract to provide 21 subsidized assisted-living units at Terraces on 7th, a Vancouver seniors' residence.

Retirement Concepts reversed that decision following objections from residents and their families. But the controversy highlighted concerns around access and cost of seniors' care.

In a recent report, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives decried the shift toward privatized seniors' service in B.C., saying seniors have less access to home health care, assisted living and residential care than in 2001 and recommending the province "stop the privatization of the home and community care system."

In response, the B.C. Care Providers Association said about 70 per cent of residential care beds in the province are provided by private operators and defended their members' performance, saying all care providers are subject to the same regulations.

In a 2016 update on the Sunshine Coast project, VCH said Silverstone would provide a "great improvement in quality of life over the aging Totem and Shornecliffe" sites, adding that the buildings are around 30 years old and feature shared bedrooms that offer little privacy and make infection control more difficult.

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VCH also says it can't afford to renovate the facilities – saying that would take "around $35-million of government money plus another $10-million for land" – and that competing demands for capital projects in healthcare mean a contract for the Silverstone Is the best way to get a new facility. Silverstone, like any VCH private contractor, will have to meet the same standards as VCH sites, said VCH spokesman Gavin Wilson. The hours of direct care per day, one benchmark used to assess quality of care, will be the same in Silversone as it is today in Shornecliff and Totem Lodge, he added.

Opponents also have concerns over potential job losses.

"Our members will be fired from their jobs and, if they're lucky enough to be rehired, it will be at a lower wage with fewer benefits," Jennifer Whiteside, secretary-business manager with the Hospital Employees' Union, said on Monday.

The HEU says it has about 200 members who work at the Totem and Shorncliffe sites.

Trellis president Mary McDougall said her company has achieved excellent ratings from accreditation groups and puts a high value on patient care.

"I understand the [quality] concerns and I share the priority on it," Ms. McDougall said, adding that the new building would be designed to accommodate singles and couples and have other benefits.

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And she said she hopes many current employees of the existing sites will wind up working in the new one if and when it is built.

"My organization's standard for quality requires an engaged and committed worker – and we don't achieve that by changing their employment and disrupting their life," Ms. McDougall said, adding that Trellis's current sites have a very low turnover rate.

She stopped short of guaranteeing jobs or wage levels, however, saying she would need to interview to build a team.

"I am expecting there are a number of great workers who already deliver services in that commuinity and I am hoping to be able to attract those people," she said.

The proposed facility would require rezoning and an amendment to the District of Sechelt's Official Community Plan, a process that involves several steps, including a public hearing.

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About the Author
National correspondent

Based in Vancouver, Wendy Stueck has covered technology and business and now reports on British Columbia issues including natural resources, aboriginal issues and urban affairs. More


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