05/10/2012 10:16 EDT | Updated 07/10/2012 05:12 EDT

Families, NDP call for B.C. seniors' advocate

The B.C. government isn't working quickly enough to appoint a seniors' advocate, according to the NDP and those with family members in the system.

Victoria resident Bridey Morrison-Morgan says sorting out her mother's care was a nightmare.

Her mother was admitted to residential care after a series of falls, but when her condition improved Morrison-Morgan found it nearly impossible to get her mother transferred to an assisted living facility.

"[The system] went totally amuck. Every part of it failed," she said.

"It made it worse for me, it made it worse for her. Instead of me being a fully capable advocate for her in her situation, my own personal health, over a three-and-a-half month period, started to decline. I personally had to access the health system far more than I ever had in many years because of my stress level."

Morgan-Morrison says the system was so difficult to navigate, she can't imagine how seniors without an advocate manage.

"As an outreach worker working with seniors, I've been able to gather all kinds of information about how to navigate the system, so if anybody's gonna be an advocate and be one that's fairly efficient, then it's probably me," she said.

"The kind of detective work that I did is probably far beyond what any other average citizen would be prepared to do or would know how to do."

'Bullying and intimidation'

Family members often find themselves fatigued after grappling with the system, she said.

"There's a certain amount of intimidation and bullying that takes place and my criticism is not towards the workers — these are people that genuinely care about the people they're working for," she said.

"They care about these people, otherwise they wouldn't be in the profession, but the system propels them to do their job in such a way that they can't pause enough to really look at the individual and really look at the uniqueness of the situation." Seniors' advocate and consultant Barb Kirby says seniors need a voice.

"You really do need somebody to be there to speak up for you because the hospital system ... can't know you on a personal level and if you can't speak up for yourself you can fall victim to the system."

She says having an advocate intervene can make a big difference.

"I think sometimes if the [care] homes know there is somebody there looking out for the resident, then they take a little more notice," Kirby said.

"Not everybody is going to fall victim to this sort of stuff but it's good to be aware of it and know where it is and how to recognize it and how to respond to it."

'We can't wait'

An investigation by B.C.'s ombudsperson last year uncovered a wide range of problems with the system and made 176 recommendations.

In response the B.C. government said it would look at appointing a seniors' advocate, like B.C.'s representative for children and youth, to investigate allegations of abuse and keep an eye on the system.

Health Minister Mike de Jong said the province hopes to the position filled within the year, but officials are still working on the job description.

"There is an argument to be made for a broader mandate here, because we have all heard the stories about seniors that are taken advantage of."

But Katrine Conroy, the NDP critic for seniors' care, says the province needs to act now.

"We need an independent voice and we need it sooner rather than later. We can't wait," she said.