You may recall from the last blog post (Chinese Humungous Insurance Company Associated with Chinese Communist Party Officials Takes Control Of Senior’s Care Facilities in British Columbia); I wrote about the situation in British Columbia where a large number of Canadian seniors’ care homes were bought by Anbang Insurance Group, a Chinese insurance company. Subsequently, it was taken over by the Chinese government due to corruption (see the previous story here). They also purchased others across the country. Your tax dollars currently subsidize their business to the tune of $97 million per year. To be clear, from my point of view, this is not about a specific nationality or race; this situation just happens to involve a Chinese firm that has fallen under the direct control of the Chinese government. In my opinion, the situation would have unravelled in the same way whether the firm involved were Chinese, Swiss, or Peruvian; rather, this story is about the ways private businesses operate in a very sensitive area of our economy. Or, to bring the point home, how private business will care for you or your parents in the not too distant future. Clearly, the drive of business is to maximize profit. Common ways to do this are: cut service, raise fees by charging for ‘add-ons’, and paying workers less.
Much of the problems in senior care stem from these concepts and questions: Is it better to have public or private control of seniors care? Is it better to have unionized workers getting a reasonable living wage, or is it better to drive wages to the bottom so private business can make as much money as possible? Is it better to have a public system like Medicare running these facilities or is it better to have the government funding these private businesses which then supposedly do a good job? It is these fundamental issues that have resulted in today’s crisis level of care with respect to seniors.
The current owners of many of the retirement care homes – and these in particular – claim their issue is staff shortage, but the facts are really much different. Between 1970 and 1990, a consensus decision was arrived at by government and those involved in care from a ‘public good’ point of view, that there had to be uniform standards for pay and benefits in order to get quality workers. This in turn would encourage those providing the care to stay in one work location. What was arrived at came down to a collective pay and benefits agreement which the former NDP government set up in the 1990s. Along came the Liberals in 2002, who decided the care homes should not have to be unionized; they passed legislation which allowed the patchwork of nursing homes to de-unionize. In a drive for greater profits, many care homes engaged in what is called ‘contract flipping’ – repeatedly subcontracting out to operators who need not abide by the collective agreements, i.e., no successorship. This was a method of getting rid of the union. Fast forward to today: currently, there is a giant mishmash of wages and benefits between hundreds of different care facilities. Some homes are unionized and some aren’t. Workers at some homes start at $7 an hour less than those at others. Naturally, people want to work where they receive benefits and better wages. Union level wages start at $24.83 an hour at government-run facilities, yet at unionized non-government facilities, they start at $17.80/hour. Benefits are also significantly less. At facilities that are not unionized at all, many work at minimum wage: $13.85 per hour. If you have ever taken care of someone, you know this can be difficult back-breaking work. Imagine trying to raise a family on two unionized salaries, no less the non-unionized. When the operators of these homes state there is a labour shortage, what they are really saying is they do not pay enough, nor do they provide adequate benefits and working conditions to attract good quality staff. Whenever staff get a chance to jump to a better paying job at a unionized facility, they do. By the way, to become a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN), students must attend college/technical school here in BC for 2 years; some of the care aide staff have this credential.
When the federal Liberal Trudeau government allowed the homes to be sold in 2017 to an off-shore buyer, there were no specific controls put in place which would guarantee quality of service; indeed, the way they are set up, with private and public beds in the same facility, it is nearly impossible to monitor the quality of care for the $97 million we pay this one company.
What is the solution? We only need to look as far as Medicare here in Canada, and compare it to medical care received by our next-door neighbours. Ask yourself, what do you want for your family and yourself when it comes to quality of care? Then ask yourself what you want for the rest of the citizens of our great land who are not wealthy. After all, only a small portion of our population is lucky enough to get a really good pension and only about 24 % of the population between ages 35 and 44 has managed to contribute to an RRSP in 2017. If you think they are likely going to be okay, then think about this: the median amount of contribution was $3,030. If this group of investors are lucky, they are averaging per annum 4-5% returns on their money over the long term; many have done far worse. Do the math. Most of our population is going to be living in poverty during their old age.
There are no easy answers, but clearly this situation is ridiculous and not good for the citizens of British Columbia. If you think your money is going to buy you and your loved ones better care, stay tuned for next month’s follow-up article. Read more about the trusteeship that the BC Government has had to impose to make sure there is quality of care in some of the homes. This was done as a last resort, after they received substantial complaints from those needing care. Read the full story: The Goble And Mail