The B.C. government will pay 44 people to train to be a health care aides at Mountain Lake Seniors Community in Nelson. But since the money was made available at the beginning of last month, they have only had 10 applicants.
Tami Turner, site leader at Mountain Lake, believes the program should be attractive to locals, especially those who might not otherwise be able to afford to go to college.
“They will get a paycheque while they’re going to school,” she says. “It’s not just the books and tuition being paid for. They’re actually getting a wage.”
Screened applicants will take the 26-week health care assistant program at Selkirk College. Students spend part of the course in the classroom on the Trail campus or online, and part of it doing a practicum in a health care agency – in this case Mountain Lake. In the future, Turner says, students who complete the training could help staff the Nelson Health Campus, which is due to open next to Mountain Lake in 2024.
Lina Saba, director of sales and marketing at Park Place Seniors Living, which operates Mountain Lake, calls care aides the backbone of the health care system.
Care aides are involved with residents throughout the day, starting with helping them get out of bed in the morning, which can take more than one care aide depending on how mobile the resident is.
Then they help with washing, dressing, and feeding throughout the day. Many residents may be unable to do these things themselves because of arthritis, dementia or other reasons. The care aides may need to help with mobility throughout the day, and they assist the nurses with monitoring each person’s needs.
“They are the ones that are having the most contact with your loved one,” Saba says. “They provide support when it comes to things like grooming, personal care, mobility, and socialization. They’re kind of like extended family.”
Wages, housing and public perception
The main barrier to hiring, according to Terry Lake, CEO of the BC Care Providers Association, is the lack of housing available to students in Nelson.
“We’ve brought this up with the province,” says Lake. “They’re not sure what to do about it, as it’s a challenge everywhere across the country.”
Lake says that care aides in B.C. make a base rate of $26.93 per hour.
Some care aides in the province are unionized and some are not. During the pandemic, the government began topping up the wages of non-union health care aides to union level. A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health told the Nelson Star this will continue throughout 2023.
Lake says the public is often not aware of the rewards or the importance of the job and that people tend to think of care aides as hospital workers.
He says the program presents a very low barrier to getting into a health care career.
Dylan Oostvogels took advantage of that low barrier. He has worked as a care aide at Mountain Lake for a year and a half, and was one of the first care aides to train in the new program.
He says he had been thinking about a health care career, came across this program, and decided it would make a good entry point.
“It was so accessible because we had the job while we were training,” he says, “and that (practicum) exposure really helped, getting to know the residents and the routines.”
Lake says that if the job is a fit, a care aide can then go on to take a bridging program to become a licensed practical nurse or other jobs in health care.
But others find satisfaction in being a care aide.
Lorrie Steele has done the job at Mountain Lake for 14 years and calls it “the most rewarding job there is” because of the intimate connections with residents and their families.
Glenda Pasutti, who has worked at Mountain Lake since it opened in 2005, says the job is multi-faceted and challenging.
“A lot of people think it’s just visiting with seniors,” she says. “But it’s way more than that. It’s emotional. It’s mental. It’s a physical job. There’s an awful lot entailed in this work.”
Anyone wishing to apply for the program should email Tami Turner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was altered on Feb. 8 to state that care aides made a base rate of $26.93 per hour in B.C., to replace the original statement that a care aide can make between $25 and $31.