Weeks after two southern Interior seniors died from injuries they received while in residential care, the president of the B.C. Nurses Union is passing through on her regular summer tour.
Debra McPherson said from Merritt on Friday she would be in Kamloops all day Saturday and in Vernon later in the week.
In Kamloops, Jack Shippobotham was attacked by another resident at Overlander Extended Hospital and died three weeks later. In Vernon, William May suffered fatal injuries and his roommate is charged with murder.
McPherson tours one of the BCNU's 16 regions every summer by bus to meet with members and hear their concerns. By coincidence, she ended up in two cities experiencing increased awareness of aggressive dementia patients.
"We've been hearing about this for a number of years, particularly the staff concerns about their own well being. We've had a number of incidents with mental health, forensics and long term care where staff have been severely injured," she said.
"We've had staff members beat to a pulp."
The number of aggressive patients with dementia is on the rise and will continue as the population ages and lives longer, she said.
But staffing in the facilities that care for those people has declined. Staff numbers have been drastically decreased, registered nurses have been replaced by licensed practical nurses (LPNs), and the jobs formerly done by LPNs are being done by care aides.
That leads to the second concern about long-term care: lack of training.
"People are living longer and dementias are an issue, families can't care for them any more. Some (workers at residential-care facilities) have told us they have no training (to deal with dementia and aggression)," she said.
"And they have a lot of purple-dot patients, patients who show signs of aggression."
Most sites also don't have security which, with reduced staffing levels, leaves workers more vulnerable, McPherson said.
"Nurses are spread so thin, if you're in one area of the building looking after someone who's aggressive, help is far away," she said.
"These are real issues about having backup where you have small numbers of staff."
The BCNU president said she's heard 15 per cent of clients in residential care show signs of serious or very serious aggressive behavior.
"That number will likely only increase over time. Yet we've yet to see the employers respond," she said.
"They can't just keep putting out fires, they need a systematic approach."
She wants to see a provincewide effort to boost staff and security numbers in residential care, as well as training.