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B.C. moving private home support services back into health authorities

VICTORIA — The B.C. government is moving privately-run home support services back under health authorities in Metro Vancouver and southern Vancouver Island, largely ending the model of widespread private contracting.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said bringing home support back in-house into the health authorities will improve scheduling, provide more stable hours for staff and seniors, and make it easier to recruit much-needed staff as B.C. looks to accommodate the growing number of seniors.

“This was a chopped-up mixed system,” Dix told Postmedia News. “The contracts weren’t working very well for anyone, but especially not for clients. So we’re making that change. I think it’s the practical change to make, because of what we’re doing with team-based care.”

Home care staff help people — mainly seniors — remain independent in their homes for as long as possible by visiting to assist them in getting dressed, preparing meals, bathing and providing other services. The rationale has been that by employing staff to visit people at home, the government provides better care for seniors, allows them to maintain their independence, and avoids the higher costs and health care complications that would arise if those seniors had to be admitted into hospital or care beds.

Dix said there will be little noticeable change for seniors, but he hopes over time their care will improve. More than 24,500 people in Metro Vancouver, and almost 11,000 people on Vancouver Island receive home support services.

The change will affect Vancouver Coastal Health, Fraser Health and Island Health.

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B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix. FRANCIS GEORGIAN / PNG

The announcement brought immediate condemnation from the B.C. Care Providers Association, which represents the private sector organizations. It was not consulted and was blindsided by the sudden shift in policy, said CEO Daniel Fontaine.

“I’m deeply disappointed,” said Fontaine. “Today’s announcement is in my view based more on ideology, something that is aimed more at addressing the needs of donors than the needs of seniors and their families.”

Fontaine said the current system has a 93 per cent satisfaction rate in user surveys and has been working well for years. There’s no need for such a massive upheaval when the home support sector is already facing a staffing crisis, he said. And Fontaine said the decision seems to be driven by the public-sector unions and NDP supporters who believe all jobs where possible should be publicly controlled and not private.

“I think they really firmly believe all these should be back in the health authority, should not be in the community,” he said. “That will make (the unions) happy. But what is the outcome going to be?”

Fontaine said he’ll be appealing directly to Premier John Horgan to overturn the decision.