Invest in caregivers or pay more for health care: B.C. seniors’ advocate

VICTORIA — A growing number of caregivers in British Columbia are feeling distressed and the province’s seniors’ advocate says that could be a costly problem for the health care system.

Isobel Mackenzie’s office has released a report saying 31 per cent of home care clients now have a caregiver in distress, meaning they’re angry, depressed or feel like they can’t continue providing care.

The report says the number has jumped seven per cent since the last study in 2015.

Policies designed to keep aging people in their homes aren’t working because the data shows services like home support and adult day programs aren’t keeping pace with the needs of caregivers, Mackenzie said.

“Something is falling off or getting lost in the message between the policy level decisions and announcements and what’s being delivered and authorized on the front lines, because they’re not the same,” she said.

The report shows that the population is aging and those receiving care are increasingly frail, with complex needs. But the study says homes support and adult day programs have declined.

Some people can’t access those services, especially in rural areas, Mackenzie said, while others don’t get as much help as they need or what they’re offered is inflexible and doesn’t work.

“When you add all of this up, what you see is the burden is shifting from the public caregiver to the private caregiver, to the family caregiver. And that is why we are seeing increasing distress levels.”

Mackenzie said unpaid caregivers are also taking on duties traditionally performed by paid caregivers, including giving baths or taking vital signs — tasks they’re not properly trained to do.

“Part of their distress is that they don’t know what they’re doing and they’re concerned that they’re not caring appropriately for their loved ones,” she said.

Feeling distressed can be a major trigger for people to place their loved ones in residential care, which has significant implications for the health care system, Mackenzie said.

“Family members are throwing up their hands and moving people into care facilities,” she said, noting her office has found people who could be cared for at home but are instead living in residential facilities.

The seniors’ advocate said about one in four British Columbians is an unpaid caregiver and replacing their labour would cost the province about $3.5 billion.

Mackenzie’s report recommends that the government increase access to home support, adult day programs, and care funding, and empower caregivers to help their loved ones through training and better access to financial assistance.

The ministry of health did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the recommendations.

— Follow @gkarstenssmith on Twitter

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