Seniors’ emergency response systems might not be what you think

Dear editor,

Senior independent/assisted living facilities advertise that they offer a 24-hour emergency response system.

Dear editor,

If you live in an independent/assisted living facility for seniors in British Columbia, or have a family member in one that has been qualified by the Office of the Assisted Living Registrar, there is something you need to know.

Senior independent/assisted living facilities advertise that they offer a 24-hour emergency response system. Part of the package is that residents can live independently and wear an emergency response button.

This button is worn around the neck and can be activated by the resident if they need emergency assistance. This allows seniors to live as independently as possible, knowing assistance can be summoned with the button.

What the seniors who live in many of these facilities often don’t know is that, when they push the button on the night shift, the person who comes into their apartment and answers the call is the building custodian.

They may also not know that according to the standards set by the Office of the Assisted Living Registrar, the building custodian qualifies to be the only staff member present in the building and on duty during the night shift.

This news was surprising to me.

When touring these facilities, safety and security are emphasized. Prospective residents and families are never told that the building custodian may be the only person answering the distress calls on the night shift, and most people don’t think to ask as they assume a higher level of care is being provided.

Even if you question the qualifications of the night staff, you might not get a straight answer.

I was told at one residence that a supervisor and a custodian were on every night shift. I had to inquire further to find out that the supervisor was the custodian supervisor.

At another facility, it took 20 persistent e-mails before the qualifications of the night staff were finally revealed to me.

This applies even to the high-end senior apartments where residents can pay over $3,000 a month for the security and safety of independent living.

Now here is the shocking part of this story. Feeling a bit distressed by this first bit of news, I made further inquiries about the qualifications required of the night shift custodians.

I called the Office of Assisted Living Registrar in Victoria, and found out that these night custodians, who may be the only staff in the buildings on the night shift, are not required to have any formal first-aid training to do the job of answering the distress buttons, not even a standard basic first-aid certificate … nothing!

Just to recap … if you live in a senior residence, if you fall, or push the emergency button because you are in distress in the middle of the night, the person who comes into your room to deal with the emergency may be the building custodian, and that custodian is not required to have any first aid training.

This is a fact that I verified twice with the Office of the Assisted Living Registrar because I didn’t believe the answer the first time. I assumed the standards set out by the Office of the Assisted Living Registrar are there to protect seniors in housing residences.

I call on Minister of Health Margaret MacDiarmid to explain how this lax staffing standard is providing safe and secure accommodation for our seniors. These standards need to be reviewed.

Every night around this province, there are buildings full of seniors heading off to bed thinking there is competent staff at the ready for any emergency. I don’t think there is a possible logical defence for not requiring these operations to, at the barest minimum, require staff to have first aid training.

You only have to look at the lineup of walkers in the dining room at mealtime in these establishments to know that many people have issues that have brought them from the community into the senior residences.

When queried, establishments will assure you that they are meeting the standards of the Registrar of Assisted Living. This gives a false sense of security for those who don’t question further.

If the standards are meant to protect the seniors living in assisted/independent residences  in this province, it is simply not adequate that the people responsible for a building full of sleeping seniors on the night shift are not required to have first aid training.

This defies common sense. Who these standards serving?

When in a grocery store,  a big box store or even a gas station, there will be someone there who is first aid certified and can administer first aid in an emergency.

Why wouldn’t senior residences be regulated to the minimal standards of Walmart? How is this allowed to happen? Why is this allowed to happen?

There is something awful happening to the delivery of services to seniors in this province. If you care about this issue, make your concerns know to the Minister of Health, Office of the Assisted Living Registrar and your local MLA.

If you live in a senior Independent living facility or have family in one, insist on knowing the qualifications required of the night shift. Requiring first aid as a minimum qualification should not be too much to ask for.

Tina Filippino,

Comox Valley

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