Widower brings plea to ‘honour and respect’ home care workers to legislature
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A Winnipeg man who fought to acquire home care for his terminally ill wife — but she died before it finally arrived — made a passionate appeal on the opening day of the legislative session.
Delivering a prepared statement outside the chamber after question period Wednesday, Eric De Schepper begged legislators to recognize the “invaluable” role of home care workers in society, their worth and compensate them for it.
The widower said he learned first hand of the hardship that comes with a lack of available workers. His spouse Kathy Ellis, 62, died Feb. 18 from pancreatic cancer — five weeks after leaving hospital without receiving the palliative home care promised.
Health-care system officials have blamed the issue on a staffing shortage.
“On behalf of my late wife, Kathy, I would like to ask the honourable members of the Manitoba legislative assembly how much compensation would you like to ask for to go down on your hands and your knees in front of a toilet bowl, to take a rag and wipe off some human feces from a toilet, from the seat, from the lid, from the tank, from the walls, from the floors?” said De Schepper, 58.
“How much would you be willing to spend for (assistance) after being left in your bed after four weeks with the same sheets? How would you feel if all your caregiver was able to do was give you a sponge bath? How can you put a price on that? How valuable is that to you?”
De Schepper was introduced to reporters by Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont, but the widower said he has no political party nor labour union affiliation.
He is speaking out because the ranks of home care workers are “dwindling” and “this matter requires immediate attention.” The government, he said, hasn’t been listening to home care workers.
“Their voices have gone unheard,” De Schepper said. “Now, I’m pleading for these people — please listen to them… They want to help repair the dysfunctional, antiquated system. They care about their work, their sacred mission, and their patients.
“For many of the elderly, home care workers have become an essential part of their support network and sometimes are their only point of outside contact… Please provide them with competitive wages, health benefits and sick days. Please allow them to have a family life. Please honour and respect them in ways they deserve.”
“How much would you be willing to spend for (assistance) after being left in your bed after four weeks with the same sheets? How would you feel if all your caregiver was able to do was give you a sponge bath? How can you put a price on that? How valuable is that to you?”–Eric De Schepper
In question period, leaders of all three political parties acknowledged De Schepper’s presence in the visitors gallery, offering condolences.
The Liberals and NDP grilled the Tories on the failings of the home care system.
Lamont asked when De Schepper could expect a public apology and an explanation for the failure to provide home care “when care was needed most.”
Minister of Seniors and Long-term Care Scott Johnston said De Schepper’s experience was “unacceptable,” an inquiry is underway to determine what went wrong and he will act on the results.
“I can apologize to Mr. De Schepper for the anguish and the tragedy that he endured,” Johnston said.
NDP Leader Wab Kinew asked Premier Heather Stefanson what steps were being taken to ensure such as situation won’t happen again.
Stefanson said the PCs announced a seniors strategy last week, with $15 million specifically for home care, and “there’s more to come.”
NDP health critic Uzoma Asagwara accused the Tories’ earlier cost-cutting of damaging the home care system.
“Seniors and elders are not receiving the dignified care they deserve,” said Asagwara. “Front-line workers are being disrespected again and again and again and its because of (former premier) Brian Pallister and the premier’s cuts to health care.”
The member for Union Station, who is a nurse, asked the government to acknowledged home care is in crisis.
“There are challenges in home care and our government recognizes that,” said Johnston. The seniors strategy is taking action to address them and the government is “bringing forth a further model to enhance home care.”
“Seniors and elders are not receiving the dignified care they deserve… Front-line workers are being disrespected again and again and again and its because of (former premier) Brian Pallister and the premier’s cuts to health care.”–NDP health critic Uzoma Asagwara
Asagwara introduced freedom of information documents showing fewer Winnipeggers were receiving direct home care this past year than five years ago, and home care worker vacancies are growing.
The documents show the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority providing fewer home care hours to fewer clients: 2,655,542 hours in 2021-22, compared to 2,892,895 hours in 2017-18. In 2021-22, 18,756 clients received direct care, compared to 19,386 in 2017-18.
According to the documents, in January 2021, there were 352 home care job vacancies in the WRHA, or 18.7 per cent of positions vacant. In October 2022, there were 393 vacant positions (21.8 per cent).
Spending on direct home care has hovered around $109 million a year from 2017-18 to 2021-22, with the exception of 2020-21 and the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, when home care spending dropped to $103 million, Shared Health data show.
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.