British Columbia’s Seniors Advocate, Isobel Mackenzie, speaks to the Senior Citizens’ Association of B.C. at the Canoe Seniors Centre on Friday, May 3. (Martha Wickett/Salmon Arm Observer)

Seniors advocate: Incentives in system move seniors to nursing homes

Disproportionately more poor people in long-term care facilities, advocate finds

The health-care system provides built-in incentives for people to move into long-term care facilities, says the BC Seniors Advocate, a reality she would like to see changed.

Speaking in Canoe on Friday, May 3 to the Senior Citizens Association of BC, an umbrella group made up of BC seniors from throughout the province, Isobel MacKenzie said the income of a significant number of B.C. seniors is not meeting their expenses.

She said 74 per cent of people surveyed in a mail-out that garnered 1,599 responses are either concerned or very concerned about health-care costs.

How can that be when health-care is free, she asks. She explains that at 55, health-care is free. A person can clean their house, drive themselves, bathe themselves – and all their health-care needs are covered.

However, at 90, perhaps, a person might still have a sharp brain but might not be able to see, hear well or walk without a walker.

Now they need to pay somebody to help them take a bath, to get meals, to drive to appointments, to shovel the snow. Suddenly it moves from, it would be nice to have a pedicure, to want, not need – they need someone to cut their toenails.

“We asked, if you required 24-hour care, where would you want to live? Only 20 per cent said a nursing home. A big chunk wanted to go to a retirement home. About 40 per cent wanted to stay at home. Right now we have a system that incentivizes people to move into nursing homes.”

Read more: Province taking over seniors’ home care in southern B.C.

Read more: Home Care declines as B.C. senior population grows, advocate says

Read more: BC Seniors Advocate questions labour shortage in care homes

The maximum a person must pay in a nursing home is $3,200, but the amount is based on income. Most people, because they have less income, pay $1,800 to $2,000, she says.

The actual cost for a nursing home bed is $6,400 or higher. So if the government has to contribute $3,200 to top up the cost – on average closer to $4,800 – to house someone in a nursing home, why not give them the $3,200 for expenses at home, MacKenzie asks. For instance, the government could pay hydro bills on their behalf, telecommunications on their behalf and could set up a fund for house repairs.

“Now the only way to get the subsidy is to go into a facility. So that’s why poorer people go. There are disproportionately more poorer people in long-term care.”

She says seniors want choice, something she’d like to work on with the government. In the last five years, home support has been providing less services to seniors, not more.

In about five weeks, MacKenzie expects her report on home support to be complete and available to the public.

The Office of the Seniors Advocate monitors and analyzes seniors services and issues in B.C., and makes recommendations to government and service providers to address systemic issues. According to its website, the office was established in 2014 and is the first office of its kind in Canada.


@SalmonArm
marthawickett@saobserver.net

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