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NDP, Liberals promise big investment in care homes, Greens want ‘shift away’ from for-profit

Future of long-term care a key local issue for Coast candidates
NDP Leader John Horgan makes an announcement on long-term care during a Sept. 30 campaign stop in Surrey.

B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan is promising a re-elected NDP government would “invest in new public long-term care homes and crack down on private operators who cut corners.”

Horgan made the promise during a Sept. 30 campaign stop in Surrey, where he claimed that COVID’s impact in long-term care homes “exposed the true costs of B.C. Liberal cuts and privatization to seniors care.”

Horgan said the NDP will build “new [and] better” public long-term care homes, and impose new regulations to ensure private care home operators “deliver the care they are paid to and are more accountable for the public dollars they receive.”

He also said the NDP would continue “levelling up” wages and benefits for care workers after the pandemic ends and spend $1.4 billion over 10 years “to eliminate multi-bed rooms” in health authority-owned long-term care facilities. 

Horgan’s campaign promise came a day after the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU) released the results of a poll it commissioned from Research Co.

The BCGEU said the poll shows a significant majority of British Columbians are concerned about for-profit corporations in the long-term care sector, with 73 per cent of respondents wanting to see the number of for-profit operators reduced and 71 per cent saying any new contracts for long-term care beds should go to not-for-profit operators.

Horgan said the NDP’s plan does not include phasing out private-sector ownership.

“I believe there can be a healthy mix, but those that are in the business for profit need to make sure that they’re meeting minimum standards and money that is transferred from the public to private providers needs to come with certain standards.”

Green Leader Sonia Furstenau, however, said last week that the Greens want “to begin to shift away from a for-profit care model into one that supports and prioritizes the expansion of a high-quality and accessible public seniors care system.”

And Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson announced a plan Oct. 4 that includes a Seniors’ Home Care Tax Credit of up to $7,000 a year for those receiving home care and a five-year, $1-billion long-term care home plan “that will replace and upgrade outdated long-term care homes and assisted living residences to ensure every senior who wants a private room can have one.”

Long-term care was a hot button issue on the Sunshine Coast during the 2017 election and the early months of the NDP government, because of the controversy around Vancouver Coastal Health’s contract with Trellis Seniors’ Services to build a new long-term care facility and close Shorncliffe and Totem Lodge.

The Trellis facility is just a few steps away from approval by the District of Sechelt, but the number of new beds is still short of anticipated needs.

Asked by Coast Reporter whether the promised $1.4 billion could be a source of funds to keep long-term beds at Shorncliffe or Totem as well, Horgan said, “I know, [NDP incumbent] Nick Simons and [Health Minister] Adrian Dix worked very closely with the community to get a good understanding of the challenges that they face with respect to the aging homes and the privatized one that the B.C. Liberals were putting into play in the community.”

Horgan went on to say he expected them to continue to work to “make sure people on the Sunshine Coast get the seniors care they deserve.”

For his part, Simons said he’s “quite confident that the Sunshine Coast will benefit” from the $1.4 billion in funding.

“We have two public facilities in Sechelt and other facilities, non-profit and public, throughout the riding,” he said. “My expectation is that the announcement speaks to the repurposing of Shorncliffe and Totem.”

Green candidate Kim Darwin responded to the NDP promise by calling it “typical NDP” and questioning the party’s commitment to public health care.

“They say one thing during an election and then often do another thing once elected,” she said. “The Sunshine Coast is already familiar with their actual commitment to public seniors care with the approval of the Trellis facility and the closure of our public ones. I don’t think anyone on the Coast will really fall for this.”

Sandra Stoddart-Hansen of the Liberals said Horgan’s announcement lacked specifics.

“This plan doesn’t say how many new beds or facilities will be built for seniors,” she said in an email. “From what I can see, it is a plan with a 10-year horizon and doesn't provide any immediate support.”

And, like Darwin, she questioned whether the NDP would follow through.

Simons defended the NDP government’s record.

“We have other opportunities for building new beds for seniors and our government had already begun the process of bringing up the standards at all long-term care homes, expecting workers to work in one facility and protecting wages and benefits,” he said.

“I think that a reasonable person would see that [$1.4 billion] as an important investment and one that goes towards meeting our long-term care needs… In the context of previous governments, the success we’ve had is significant.”