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The Sechelt Band Hall was packed with a standing-room-only crowd on Jan. 28 at a public forum on seniors’ care. It was organized by a coalition opposed to Vancouver Coastal Health’s decision to replace two public long term care facilities in Sechelt with a private, for-profit facility operated by Trellis Seniors Services Ltd. Donna McMahon photo

So many people packed into the Sechelt Band Hall that latecomers had to be turned away from the Forum on “Defending Public Seniors’ Care” on Jan. 28.

An estimated 250 people attend the forum organized by the “Protect Public Health Care” coalition to protest Vancouver Coastal Health’s plans to close two aging care homes in Sechelt and replace them with Silverstone, a private, for-profit facility.

The event kicked off with presentations by two guest speakers. Research scientist Dr. Margaret McGregor, who heads UBC’s Department of Family Practice Community Geriatrics program, described studies conducted in the U.S. and Ontario that show that privately operated for-profit care facilities provide less patient care than public facilities.

“When the pressure to make profit is stronger, some elements of quality, the most costly of which is staffing, may be sacrificed,” said McGregor.

“It’s really up to us to continue challenging our decision-makers, as you are doing, to apply this evidence when considering construction of new beds, so that our seniors can receive the high quality relational care they deserve.”

Jennifer Whiteside, chief spokesperson for the Health Employee’s Union of B.C. (HEU), expressed her concern at the trend towards privately-operated for-profit facilities.

About 200 employees will lose their jobs when Shorncliffe Care Centre and Totem Lodge close, and those hired by Trellis are expected to receive lower wages and benefits.

“Between 2000 and 2016 the vast majority of all the long term care beds that have been created have been created in the for-profit sector,” said Whiteside. She stated that 34 per cent of long term care (LTC) beds in BC are now for-profit.

At the same time, “the total number of long term care beds has remained stagnant.” From 2000-2016 the number of LTC beds increased two per cent while the seniors population aged 75 and over increased 53 per cent.

Women are particularly affected, said Whiteside. “There are a lot of elderly frail women in long term care,” she noted, pointing out that women typically earn less than men over their careers and are more likely to end up in poverty as seniors.

HEU is concerned about deteriorating working conditions and pay for long term care aides across the province, who Whiteside described as “rushed off their feet” and at high risk of injury.

Among those speaking during a question and answer period them was seniors advocate Sue Jackel, who urged attendees to write to the District of Sechelt, which has the authority to refuse rezoning of the proposed site for Silverstone on the basis that it is not a suitable location.

Organizers had not planned to let politicians speak at the event, but in response to public questions they allowed brief policy statements.

MLA Nicholas Simons, stated that the NDP is against privatization of health care in any form. “I am very happy that I have a petition in my office with almost 10,000 signatures from people like you,” said Simons. The petition opposes private for-profit seniors care on the Sunshine Coast.

Liberal candidate Mathew Wilson received a much cooler reception as he attempted to shift attention from the provincial government to Vancouver Coastal Health.

“It’s unfortunate that Vancouver Coastal Health isn’t here because I think quite frankly the level of engagement of the community on the model they came up with has failed the community,” said Wilson.

“Whether we can change direction now or not, I don’t know. Vancouver Coastal Health is the only one that can speak to that. But what we don’t want to lose sight of is the opportunity for our community to have a new facility with 20 additional beds.”

Green Party candidate Kim Darwin said that her party’s policies are open, transparent, and available online.

“We support comprehensive and accessible health care for all BC residents, publicly funded through progressive taxation as opposed to the regressive taxation that we’ve been seeing recently,” said Darwin.  Donna McMahon

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