Emergency room crisis highlights critical need to improve seniors' health care services

News release

The Hospital Employees' Union says the recent hospital bed crisis that has put extreme pressure on emergency departments, forced patient diversions and resulted in cancelled surgical procedures highlights the need for a long range plan to improve seniors' care services in B.C. "At the root of this crisis that's afflicted hospitals across the province are some common threads," says union spokesperson Chris Allnutt, "including what are unflatteringly called bed blockers—seniors occupying acute care beds because there's nowhere else to put them." "In our view, the most pressing health care challenge for government, the one that affects almost every single family in B.C., is providing better care for seniors. If we donít develop bold solutions now, public Medicare will crumble under pressure from the growing wave of aging Canadians," warned Allnutt, whose members provide the bulk of seniors care services in facilities and through other programs across the province. It's also a basic issue of respect and dignity, he says. "Aging seniors have a right to expect that our public Medicare system will be able to meet their health needs. It would be a bitter irony if at the beginning of the twenty-first century those who pioneered our Medicare system are unable to receive the health care for which they fought so hard." HEU has developed the outline for what Allnutt calls a "comprehensive seniors' health care protection plan." It includes recommendations for more long-term care beds linked to other progressive housing strategies, expanded home support services and other prevention-based programs, and access to 24-hour care services in the community. "We've been warning Victoria for more than a year about the looming crisis," he said, "And while we've made some progress in discussing long range solutions with the health minister, others in government have not yet fully realized the extent of the seniorsí care crisis." "Real solutions require vision, commitment and a secure source of new funding. That message needs to get through to the entire cabinet." Allnutt is optimistic that in the short term health ministry officials will seek out more cost effective alternatives to set up emergency alternate level care beds in hospitals and other public health care facilities before spending up to $400 a day shuffling elderly patients to private, for-profit facilities.