By Daniel Tseghay
On thursday, October 15, caregivers, members of the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU), and others, came together outside of Saint Elizabeth, a Vancouver home-care services provider. Eighty-nine home support workers are losing their jobs at the end of the month because Vancouver Coastal Health is cutting funding and transferring duties to volunteers and casual workers.
The essential services provided by these support workers, like cleaning and cooking, are now left to already-stressed family members or a United Way program called Better at Home. Vancouver Coastal Health will now only provide personal medical care. A report published last month notes that 29% of family caregivers are distressed while another report published in May of 2015 reveals that the number of those receiving home support in the province in 2013-14 is remains at the same level it was at over a decade ago, despite the growth in the number of seniors.
In this context, losing 89 experienced caregivers who have worked for an average of 25 years has inspired a response from co-workers and the BCGEU, which represents the workers.
“I’m lucky, I’m not being laid off. I work in group homes and our contract is different from those who work in the field,” says Dahlia Ubial, a shop steward in the assisted living department at the Millennium Tower, operated by Saint Elizabeth, in an interview. “The ones getting laid off work house to house, they visit seniors in their homes. We’re safe but I’m here to support them. I won’t be affected for now.”
Ubial expresses concerns about the future in light of all the changes she’s seen. Home support hours have been getting cut. “They are now sending home support workers to give just 15 minute service,” Ubial says. “Who’s going to work for 15 minutes? They do give eyedrops and medication. They’re already squeezing them and cutting back their hours.”
The company is laying off regulars and hiring some of them back as casuals. Ubial says there are now 434 casuals.
One of the speakers at the rally was the BCGEU’s president, Stephanie Smith.
“This is about money. This is about cuts to funding for seniors services. This is about health authorities deciding that these jobs should go to either volunteers, to low-paid contract workers, or to the family members that we already know are over-stressed and over-stretched,” says Smith.
Smith pointed out at that the duties of home support workers allow seniors to stay in their homes, something many find more comfortable and dignified. The BCGEU’s are to call on the Minister of Health, Terry Lake, Saint Elizabeth, and the premier, Christy Clark, to take this more seriously and provide the funding. “This isn’t just seniors,” Smith reminds everyone. “It’s those who’ve been discharged from hospital, those who require long-term care.”
It’s also about home support workers who deserve better than to be discharged themselves after so many years of necessary work.