Op-ed: Family caregivers to feel the biggest impact of seniors care staffing crisis

Across the province the health human resources crisis is getting worse. Without immediate action we can expect the challenges facing the seniors’ sector to continue to accelerate. The impacts of the crisis on family caregivers, who are often regarded as the backbone of Canada’s health care system, may be nothing short of devastating.

Demand for seniors’ care services – including long term care, assisted living, and home support – is expected to increase dramatically over the next ten years, due to an aging population. In fact, between 2020 and 2025, the seniors care sector will be the fastest growing industry in BC. Staffing is not expected to keep pace.

Right now organizations are managing to find innovative solutions to cope with the crisis and ensure that seniors receive the care they need, but without immediate action a time will come where that may no longer be possible. That will have real impacts not just for seniors’ care providers, but also for families.

Recently, one Ontario news story highlighted the effects staffing shortages can have on the independence of people needing support, but also the well-being and employment of family caregivers.

It is challenging to see stories like this in the news, and as a province, we must come to terms with the fact that this will be our reality if immediate action is not taken to address the health human resource crisis. Without an adequately staffed seniors care sector, families will be left to pick-up the slack.

Family caregivers are already playing a huge role in the care and well being of seniors. According to the Change Foundation there are 3.3 million family caregivers in Canada. While this work can be fulfilling and rewarding it can also be challenging, with 49 per cent of caregivers feeling it impacts their mental health and 41 per cent, their physical health. 22 per cent of caregivers report their caregiving affecting their finances. A shocking 61 per cent report that they are caregiving because they have no choice.

In June, BCCPA released Situation Critical: A made-in-BC plan to address the seniors care labour shortage in which the organization recommended 10 priority actions for addressing the health human resource challenge, including investing in an awareness building campaign focused on the rewarding career opportunities that are available for Health Care Assistants in BC’s growing continuing care sector. BCCPA feels strongly that acting on these recommendations will strengthen seniors’ care, to everyone’s benefits, including families.