Jennifer Lush’s 86-year-old mother Marianne Lush is living the last days of her life.
She’s largely blind and paraplegic, then in August she was diagnosed with an inoperable cancer.
“It’s been an incredibly stressful month for our family,” said Jennifer.
That stress, Jennifer says, has been made worse by healthcare workers who are supposed to provide Marianne’s palliative care at home but have not been showing up to care for her.
“She’s very reliant on the health care workers that come in and when they don’t show up it really impacts her quality of life and really puts her at risk,” said Jennifer.
Twice last week, Jennifer says health care workers didn’t come when they were scheduled. Her mother is supposed to have home-support workers to help her get in and out of bed, feed her, and give her much needed pain relieving medications.
On top of not showing up, Jennifer says she wasn’t alerted.
“It’s completely unacceptable, it is not ok,” she said. “The family should be notified, the agency should be sending out another person for the person who called in sick. None of that happened. We need to come up with quality assurance protocols and policies so that this does not continue to put our seniors at risk.”
Island Health subcontracts out at-home senior support to a variety of companies across Vancouver Island. They say there is a process in place for those contracted providers to notify Island Health if they’re not able to fulfill a scheduled visit.
“It’s unclear why this process was not followed in this situation and…we are following up to understand what happened,” said Island Health in a statement to CHEK News.
Sidney Senior Care, which carries out Marianne’s care, says it was ‘an isolated experience’.
“Human error or miscommunication unfortunately will factor in at some point. And of course, every industry is experiencing staffing issues due to COVID fallout,” said Shauna Dorko, president of Senior Care Group in a statement to CHEK News.
Jennifer, who happens to be a family doctor in Saanich, knows all too well the kinds of shortages the healthcare industry is facing. She says the staffing shortages though, are a symptom of a larger systemic issue.
“The problem boils down to there is inequitable pay for community health care workers in the community,” she said. “Healthcare workers could get a job in a long-term care facility or acute care hospital and get paid $5-8 more per hour.”
It’s something the union representing health care workers, the BC General Employees Union (BCGEU) has been fighting hard for at the bargaining table the past two weeks. They say though, as of Friday Sept. 23, negotiations between the union representing health authorities (Health Employers’ Association of BC) have stalled.
“Not only did your employer come to the table with no plan to address recruitment and retention, they’ve actually resisted many of our proposals and ideas to make improvements in this area,” BCGEU said in an open letter to members.
BCGEU President Stephanie Smith told CHEK News that “until government fixes this wage disparity, the recruitment and retention crisis will only get worse.”
B.C.’s Health Minister told reporters at a COVID-19 briefing Wednesday that he’s looking at the case.
“We’re certainly looking into that issue and I’ve asked Island Health to report to me on it,” said Adrian Dix.
But Lush is concerned ther her mother’s abandonment isn’t the only case.
“My mom is one senior who has an advocate in town. What is happening to seniors across this city and province … who don’t have people to advocate for them, who don’t have family to come check in on them?” asked Lush. “Those are people we need to advocate for because this can’t continue.”
Jennifer says the main issue comes back to money. She is calling for equitable pay between healthcare workers, so her mother Marianne and other seniors can live their final days with dignity.
“Why are we not doing everything we can to provide these seniors with the infrastructure to keep them at home in the last years of their life?” she said.