The Vancouver Sun published the following opinion piece by Jennifer Lyle, Executive Director of SafeCare BC. In the article, Lyle explores the question, “Who is taking care of those who care for our seniors?”
Read the Op-Ed below, or visit the SafeCare BC Website.
Opinion: Who is taking care of those who care for our seniors?
Working in health care means having a rewarding career in which caring for others is paramount. Nowhere is this more true than in long-term care. But in a sector in which the injury rate of workers is more than four times the provincial average — higher than that of law enforcement, acute care, and carpentry — who is taking care of those who care for our seniors?
A provincial health and safety association, SafeCare BC, was created this year via a concerted effort by long-term care providers with support from WorkSafeBC and the B.C. Care Providers Association to address this issue. The case for taking a province-wide approach is clear: Every year in British Columbia, over 120,000 workdays are lost due to injury.
Overexertion (51 per cent), acts of violence or aggression (11 per cent), and slips or trips (10 per cent) form the top three ways that staff are hurt on the job. Care aides are the most often affected, nearly 60 per cent of all workplace claims in long-term care involve care aides. Licensed practical nurses are the second-most affected group at just under 15 per cent, while social and community support workers and registered nurses/registered psychiatric nurses round out the top four at 4.7 per cent and 4.5 per cent, respectively.
These trends have widespread implications. Over $23 million is spent each year on WorkSafeBC claims alone. However, this cost is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. For every dollar spent on direct claims costs, an additional $4 is spent on indirect costs such as incident investigations, rescheduling, and lost productivity.
Workplace injuries have consequences that stretch beyond financial implications. Staff retention, recruitment, and job satisfaction are all negatively affected by workplace injuries. With nearly a quarter of B.C.’s population expected to be aged 65 or older in the next 20 years, our ability to recruit and retain long term care workers will become increasingly important.
From an individual perspective, being injured affects quality of life, and can even affect family relationships. The typical injured long-term care worker is female, works as a care aide, and is between aged 45-54. According to 2012 Statistics Canada data, women in this age group not only juggle career responsibilities, but are often also caring for both their children and aging relatives. An injury can therefore not only affect a person’s ability to earn an income, but also affects her ability to care for family members.
The widespread impact of workplace injuries in long term care are clear. But can anything be done? B.C. representatives from industry, organized labour, the health authorities, and WorkSafeBC will gather on Nov. 13 in Vancouver, as part of the B.C. Care Providers Association’s moderated Care 2 Chat panel discussion to explore this issue.
Across the Rockies, Alberta’s continuing care sector offers an excellent case study. Similar to B.C., the Alberta continuing care sector faced significant challenges with regards to workplace safety. The Alberta Continuing Care Safety Association was established to address workplace injuries in long term and home care. Since 2005, overall injury rates for the continuing care sector have decreased by 20 per cent. Moreover, organizations who actively participated in the CCSA’s injury reduction program experienced an average decrease of 64 per cent in workplace injuries in their first year of participation.
Alberta’s success is due in part to a concerted effort by the CCSA to engage the sector in developing and guiding its initiatives. Indeed, research into the field of occupational health and safety identifies front-line and management staff engagement in the development and implementation of safety initiatives as critical to their success. Initiatives that employ this approach not only create safer workplaces, they enhance the quality of resident care.
Building on these experiences, SafeCare BC endeavours to support the sector in reducing workplace injuries. As a sector-funded and driven association, we have been actively engaging with key stakeholders across the province to identify concerns and raise awareness of the issues. From delivering dementia care training in partnership with the Alzheimer Society of B.C., to launching the #BeCareAware communications campaign, we have responded to sector feedback with tangible initiatives.
These initiatives are just a starting point. Tackling the issue of workplace injuries in long-term care will require a sustained and multi-pronged approach. Engagement of those who work in or use services in the long term care sector is critical, as is raising awareness of the need for change.
Experience and research demonstrate that we can collectively make workplaces safer for the thousands of people who choose this rewarding career path. The first step in doing so is recognizing and committing to the need for change. And that is something we can all do.
Jennifer Lyle is executive director of SafeCare BC.