Today’s Question Period: The return of home support to health authorities

For those seeking more understanding of the decision to return home support services to the provincial government’s health authorities, this morning’s Question Period is a must-read. It’s important for all of us to see how these issues that affect our sector play out at the political level, and how we can be a part of the plans that affect us rather than routinely caught off guard by them!

These notes are provided by the good people of Hansard, who post real-time transcripts of Question Period any day when the House is sitting. More than ever, we need all the information we can get to help us understand how to get in front of multiple changes confronting the sector these days – and get in front of decisions overall that are being done to us rather than with us.

We’re also community people with deep knowledge of signs in our communities when social care is in decline. We know how to build a social-care system, because that’s work we’ve been doing all along. British Columbians and our governments need us more than ever, and need to hear why. Once you’ve read the exchange below, take your own MLA for coffee and help them understand just what a jewel they’ve got in the network of community-based non-profits that do much of the work of social care in BC.

Want to see the complete QP video? Click here and then choose Question Period Video for Tuesday, March 26, morning.

Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick: Just a few weeks ago the Minister of Health stood at an event with many of us present and congratulated B.C. care providers and their workers on doing an excellent job in providing for seniors throughout this province. You can imagine that the B.C. care providers felt they got stabbed in the back, when just a few days after that the Minister of Health stood to announce some changes that would see over 4,000 care providers being transferred from B.C. care providers in the private sector over to government control.

They believe that he has put their jobs and seniors at risk. Home care workers have also contacted us, stressed out and anxious over their own jobs as well as the impact that this is having on vulnerable seniors.

So my question to the Minister of Health is: does he believe that he should take a pause at this point — consult with seniors, consult with the B.C. care providers — before implementing this decision?

Hon. Adrian Dix, Health Minister: You know, home support is extremely important to all people in British Columbia — for people who have returned home from surgery, for seniors who want to live at home as long as possible. I think that we have an obligation to improve the home support system. Members of the House will know that in 2012, the Ombudsperson said just that in a report on seniors at that time.

Unfortunately, in spite of further reports by the seniors advocate in the interim, very little action was taken. We are changing that. In cooperation with the federal government, we are improving home support services in British Columbia. I would say that this process is, I think, going to make a huge difference in the success of team-based care in British Columbia.

With respect to home support contracts, the member will know that 100 percent of that work in Northern Health is done in-house right now, 78 percent of that work in IHA is done in-house right now, 47 percent of that work is done in Island Health right now, 37 percent in Fraser Health and 26 percent in Vancouver Coastal Health. We believe that by fully integrating home support in team-based care, we can improve the situation.

In addition to that, we face significant and serious issues that have been raised in audits about the expenditure and the contracts between 2014 and 2017. As a result, we have taken action. For contracts that were going to expire a year from now, we gave notice in order to ensure that we can improve home support services in the future. That’s what we did. And that’s what we’re going to continue to do.

N. Letnick: Well, we all believe in team-based care. Actually, the whole move to team-based care started when we were in government just a few years ago. I’m glad to see that this minister — and this government — is continuing those efforts. But this is about vulnerable seniors, seniors who believe that they were not consulted in this process.

My father, who passed away about ten years ago — God bless his soul — was in a seniors home. My mother, who passed away a few months ago, as the members here know, was also in a seniors home before she passed away. The discussions that I had with my mom were key, about those people that took care of her. Those are some of the biggest discussions that she ever had.

I know that members in this House also had moms and dads, or do have moms and dads, that are in seniors care homes and have the same discussions. So I understand there’s empathy amongst all members here.

It’s not about team-based care, and it’s not about anything else other than what I’m asking the Minister of Health to do: to take a pause, have an opportunity to talk to these seniors so that they’re not feeling frustrated and not feeling left out and that they can be part of this discussion, and to be sure that the policies and the actions this government is taking are in the best interest of them — the seniors of British Columbia.

Hon. A. Dix: Well, the member and I have spoken about this. I understand the seriousness with which he takes the issue. He spoke about long-term care. Ninety-one percent of care beds in this province, publicly funded, did not meet staffing standards when I became Minister of Health — 91 per cent.

You know who was the worst off? It was public beds funded in non-profit and for-profit beds. Those public beds were dramatically underfunded in comparison to ones that were funded by the health authorities — in other words, the very members represented by the B.C. Care Providers.

We provided, in our first year, to raise those standards up, $48 million — $46 million of that has gone to for-profit and non-profit providers. In other words, the very people represented by the B.C. Care Providers have benefited the most from this government’s action.

We are going to act in favour of seniors regardless of the circumstances. We are in home support, and we are in long-term care.

Prince George-Valemount MLA Shirley Bond: Well, to be clear to the minister, there are over 4,000 private and non-profit community health jobs that are being expropriated and converted to government jobs. This is the largest ever — and the minister can add that to his record — expansion of the public service, and it is being done with zero consultation.

You know, this isn’t a government, we all know, that is shy about consulting. In fact, at our last count, they were up to 92 consultations. In fact, as we just heard, that’s apparently all they do about ride-sharing, but I digress.

There was zero consultation on a matter that impacts seniors and that every member of this House cares about. Can the minister stand up and explain…? The question, Minister, is about consultation. This minister sandbagged 4,000 workers. Why?

Hon. A. Dix: Members of the opposition last week on social media were tweeting and retweeting about possible job losses. Well, I just want to read you that Bob Boulter, with Beacon Community Services, who, of course, we’ve been consulting with for months, confirmed that there will be no job losses — a member of the B.C. Care Providers. “Our home support workers and managers, as well as any other staff whose positions are affected by this change, will transition to Island Health, regardless of whether they’re union or non-union employees.”

You know why? Because we’re increasing home support. We found the levels of home support inadequate over the last number of years. We’re taking action to improve services.

S. Bond: Well, the minister may then want to respond to the workers, hundreds of them, who are concerned about their futures and their jobs. Let’s be clear. We have been hearing from those workers.

The winners from this massive increase in government employees appear to be NDP friends, who we know have long opposed the involvement of non-government agencies. This government will consult endlessly on issues, and the minister here apparently sees no need for consultation when acting on behalf of their friends? A straightforward question: why did the minister ambush non-government care providers with what is basically a hostile takeover?

Hon. A. Dix: It’s, I guess, the opposition circle: fear-monger, then complain that people are upset about fear-mongering.

Every time contracts come up — in this case, a contract coming up after ten years, in several cases — we gave significant notice, as per the contract. The alternative, by the way, is what happened ten years ago, when some existing contractors lost their contracts, and there were issues. That is the contracting process if we had gone to tender in that case.

We decided because we’re committed to team-based care, because we’re committed to improving home support, because we don’t think, in Fraser Health, 37 per cent in the public system and 63 per cent provided by four contractors is the right model. Surely no one over there thinks that’s the case. No one in the member’s constituency, not a single person, would argue for contracting out the home support services….

We are taking action to improve home support services. We’re taking action in response to audits that took place of problems that occurred between 2014 and ’17. Yes, when you have contractual arrangements, you deal with the contractors and not the industry association. Surely everybody in this House understands that.

Parksville-Qualicum MLA Michelle Stilwell: For 19 years, Trudy has been a home care provider. But the caregiver relationships that she has with her clients, relationships that have taken years to develop, don’t seem to matter to this minister. The minister doesn’t seem to care about the interests of seniors, only the interests of his NDP union friends. He’s dismissing the concerns that he is hearing from the people, that we are hearing from the people.

When will this minister end his attack on non-government care agencies?

Hon. A. Dix: I have to say that in 2012, and long before that…. You talk to anybody who receives home support services. The people who work in home support services, many of whom I know very well, know that the system that has been developed up to now was not working effectively for them. There were contracting issues for them.

The actions that we’re taking are to improve home support services. I think that’s desperately needed in B.C. I do not understand why the opposition would be opposed to that. In addition, we’re taking steps, consistent with a contract — in many cases, there were ten-year contracts — to give notice under the contracts and make a transition to bring those contracts in house.

You know, hon. Speaker, a couple of years ago, B.C. Hydro, which had wrongly contracted out work, brought a whole bunch of work back into B.C. Hydro. I don’t recall anybody calling the minister at the time an expropriator or a socialist or favouring his union friends. That minister was Bill Bennett. I don’t even think he was a Liberal.

What they did is what we’re doing, doing the right thing for seniors, doing the right thing for home support workers and increasing and improving home support services everywhere in British Columbia.

M. Stilwell: What this minister and this government are doing is what’s right for NDP unions, not for seniors. Caregivers have told us that seniors are refusing to take showers unless it’s done with the assistance of a caregiver or a familiar home care worker who they trust. But the minister can’t even be bothered to consult with these seniors.

Does making sweeping changes that are in the best interests of the NDP unions…? (Interjections.)

M. Stilwell: The minister hasn’t even taken the time to consult with the seniors that are going to be impacted by the sweeping change that he is making in favour of his NDP unions. So at what point will this minister, at the very least, consult with the most vulnerable seniors, who are impacted by the decisions his government is making?

Hon. A. Dix: When we’re talking about care for seniors, and we’re talking about the treatment of people who provide care for seniors, I think it’s fair to say that the previous decades were not a time of light in British Columbia.

We are treating, I think, everybody with respect. How do you treat them with respect? By improving services. How do you treat them with respect, hon. Speaker? By ensuring continuity of care. How do you treat them with respect? By ensuring home support is fully integrated into team-based care. How do you treat them with respect, hon. speaker? You treat them with respect, hon. Speaker, by ensuring that they have the services they need when they need them. That is precisely what we are doing.

This effort…. It really is, I think, shameful to demonize people. When we wanted to support seniors living in care, we supported principally by providing resources to private and non-profit providers.

In this case, all of these workers were unionized before, and all of them will be unionized afterwards.

This effort to demonize the workers, from the opposition, is shameful. We’re about improving services and home support, and you bet we’re going to continue to do it, regardless of what they say.

End of Question Period