When it’s our turn

Brenda Schimke
ECA Review Journalist

The headline reads, “CUPE wins public sector rates at private nursing facility”. On November 23, 2012 employees working for Age Care Incorporated in Calgary were given wages and working conditions on par with facilities operated by Alberta Health Services.
Now the ideology behind privatizing nursing homes was to save money. It was the same argument used to privatize liquor stores, road maintenance and government registries. The private sector can pay lower wages so it will be cheaper for the government.  It’s hard not to agree with this ideology when talking about booze, roads and driver’s licenses.
But now we’re talking about care of vulnerable people in the last stages of their lives.

Things have gone along nicely for the private sector until now. They took over government-owned facilities for pennies on the dollar and were able to bring in foreign workers with low salary and benefit expectations.
But in no time, these foreigners, many of whom are now Canadians, soon realized how expensive it is to live here. What seemed like a phenomenal salary when recruited in the Philippines was hardly a living wage. And it certainly didn’t allow them to share in the Canadian good life of leisure and consumerism.
The private sector was mandated to operate these facilities with government-imposed monthly rates.  The government’s model for private health care operators was predicated on low wages. The spread between what private operators paid their employees and what the government paid them for staff costs would be their profit.
So with no give on the revenue side and higher staff costs, the only areas left to sustain profits is to cut maintenance, delay renovations, scrimp  on cleaning, purchase less fresh vegetables and fruit, or decrease staff to patient ratios. Many would argue these areas are already gutted.
One can’t blame the private operators, their mandate is to make money for their shareholders, not do charity work.
This scenario is a classic example of believing in one ideology–the private sector is always more efficient and effective.
The ideology works for “things”, but treating vulnerable humans as a commodity shows a society with little compassion and empathy for others.
Baby boomers are going to cost a whole bunch more to take care of than our current generation of seniors. Take the one bath a week standard that seniors have been subjected to for years.  All of a sudden it’s in the news and not-yet-retired people are shocked, dismayed, alarmed!  Where have they been?
With our philosophy of outsourcing and purchasing on the cheap, it is not a big reach for future leaders to consider farming off seniors to live in nursing homes staffed by cheap labour in third world countries. Maybe if an all-inclusive resort is attached, families might even visit their loved ones once in a while!
But all jesting aside, as the bubble of baby boomers approach old age should we not start considering the old adage, “what goes around comes around”?
As a friend’s child told his parents not long ago, “we’ll put you in the best nursing home your money can buy!” The parents couldn’t believe their ears and wondered where did they go wrong in raising their son.
Every minute of the day, we all move closer to that day, when it’s our turn.

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