On the eve of MLA Nicholas Simons’ June 29 town hall on residential care in Sechelt, Vancouver Coast Health (VCH) made a pre-emptive strike, releasing 24 answers to “Frequently Asked Questions” on its website (vch.ca).
The questions and answers are intended to address community concerns about VCH’s plan to shut down its two publicly owned and operated residential care homes in Sechelt – Shorncliffe and Totem Lodge – and replace them with a privately owned and operated facility called Silverstone Care Centre in 2018.
One of the key answers appeared to directly undermine the results of a survey by the Hospital Employees’ Union (HEU) released this week. The survey found that almost 75 per cent of 767 respondents between Roberts Creek and Halfmoon Bay were opposed to “privatizing seniors care on the Sunshine Coast.”
The VCH question was, “Does this mean residential care is being privatized on the Sunshine Coast?” The answer given was no: “VCH will be purchasing 125 beds in Silverstone, which means they will be publicly funded. This model currently exists on the Sunshine Coast; VCH has a contract agreement with Christenson Village, which is managed by the Good Samaritan Society.”
VCH goes on to deny the move is a cost-saving measure, as funding for the additional residential care beds will increase by about $1.2 million per year.
What VCH doesn’t say is that, unlike Christenson Village, Silverstone will be owned by a for-profit company, Trellis Group, and that company will operate the facility. So, while VCH is technically correct that residential care isn’t being privatized, the public understands the distinction and considers the move de facto privatization.
Even less satisfying is VCH’s single, short answer regarding the impact on staff, which repeats its promise that “Trellis Group has agreed to interview all current staff interested in apply[ing] for positions,” while VCH will meet with unions to discuss other options for VCH staff.
The relative silence on staff impacts will do nothing to allay concerns, based on past examples of privatization, that staff will be systematically “weeded out” by the new employer and, if they are offered positions, will face wage cuts and loss of benefits.
Net staff losses in other privatized facilities cited by HEU have been in the 60 per cent range – a huge blow to continuity of care and quality of care for the residents; a disaster for the workers who are discarded or kept on at reduced pay, as well as their families; and a significant socio-economic hit to the community as a whole.
VCH refuses to recognize the collateral damage that its decision will have on the community. That’s why the community won’t buy its answers and why pushback is absolutely guaranteed.