By Bonnie Pearson
Earlier this month we celebrated Health Care Assistant Day.
The day was first proclaimed by the provincial government in 2011, in recognition of the exceptional commitment and skill British Columbia’s care aides and community health workers bring to health care’s front lines.
You may not know health care assistants by their various job titles, but they are the backbone of personal care and support in our long-term care homes, the community and in our acute care hospitals.
They provide seniors and others with every aspect of individual care – from feeding, toileting, dental care and bathing to comforting those who are confused, agitated or in the final stages of life.
They do it in the face of significant obstacles that undermine the quality of care they are able to provide.
For too long, government has ignored the warning signs that come from not having sufficient staff to provide the level and quality of care British Columbians deserve.
In B.C.’s residential care facilities, it has become typical for care aides to try and meet the needs of their frail, elderly residents, without being given enough time to do the job.
That means people are literally being run off their feet, which results in more injuries, illness and burnout.
Care aides have the highest injury rates in our hospitals and long-term care settings. It’s estimated that during a typical day a care aide will lift an average of 38 patients into bed, or from a bed to a chair.
It’s not only the physical toll that affects these front line health-care workers. There’s also a tremendous emotional toll.
When people are being pulled in so many different directions – and are not able to be there for someone who may be lonely, afraid, or near death – a whole other level of stress kicks in.
In 2011, the B.C. Ombudsperson’s landmark investigation into seniors’ care called for higher staffing levels and enforceable standards for key aspects of resident care – bathing, meal preparation, and recreational services.
It’s time to heed her call and to admit focusing solely on the bottom line is not working.
Scrimping on human resources may save a few dollars in the short term. But once you add up the additional costs that come from increased injuries and sick time, there are no long-term savings to be found by understaffing.
As the union representing the vast majority of care aides and community health workers in B.C., HEU is calling for the changes needed to ensure staff have the time they need to provide quality care.
Without that basic investment, our seniors will continue to lose out. And our care aides and community support workers will continue to burn out.
It’s time to care. It’s time to invest in people – the people who need care, and the people who provide it.
Bonnie Pearson is the secretary-business manager, of the Hospital Employees’ Union.