A Bolder Vision for Senior Care on the Coast

BC Seniors Advocate, Isobel Mackenzie’s visit to the Sunshine Coast and presentation on current issues impacting BC Seniors was well anticipated as the Seaside Centre had standing room only. Isobel provided a thorough presentation to seniors outlining key areas that are most affecting BC seniors in general. Isobel Mackenzie did highlight that the Coast is home to a considerable aging population.

In her presentation, we heard about disparities with respect to aging in place tied to available income, and that those without property ownership, are in a more precarious position to be able to afford care at home, and often have to resort to admission to long term care (LTC) facilities. The figure quoted of seniors having to move into LTC was as high as 50%. In other words, if our public homecare system was able to provide care of seniors at home, without the $8,800 price tag it could mean that many could afford to stay at home. The reality is that there is no benefits plan that covers the cost of dental care, eyeglasses, hearing aids, or medical equipment and too often these costs, along with rental costs, increasing food costs etc, end up being the cause for seniors to leave their homes, pets, family and friends. We heard that the average income for seniors is 51,170 but that 45% of seniors are trying to live in the community with 45% less than a minimum wage income.

This presentation was relevant to all in attendance and several people asked questions, one brave woman living in LTC shared her own story and highlighted the lack of decision-making and autonomy that seniors face when living in the community and residing in LTC. Others spoke passionately about being against private care facilities on the Coast.

Several of our board of directors from the Sunshine Coast Alliance for Seniors Co-op (SCASCC) attended but due to time constraints and wanting the space to be held for seniors to ask questions, we were unable to address an alternative that is an option for seniors when it comes to aging in place, housing affordability and residing in LTC. This presentation has both validated the real overwhelming challenges that many seniors in the Coast face daily, it also provided a deeper understanding for those seniors aging in place with sufficient income supports to appreciate how the social determinants of health are impacting all seniors, their care and their quality of life.

There is no better time to consider seniors cooperative housing, community care delivery and expanding this model to LTC. We at SCASCC are lobbying and advocating for a pilot Co-op LTC care facility to be built and operated in the Coast. Our vision includes residents, families, caregivers, community and indigenous partners to have a voice at the boardroom table on the daily operational decisions of LTC service delivery. We have an opportunity in the Coast to pioneer this model in our beautiful province – a model that has successfully worked in PEI. Moreover, why stop at Co-op LTC? Why not consider taking the profits out of community health care delivery in order for seniors to be able to remain at home. A co-op home care delivery agency would be able to achieve this, as many seniors would surely prefer to purchase care from a nonprofit co-op agency that they own, elect a functional board and have a say at. It is also our hope that we will come back to you with news regarding affordable housing for seniors. We are currently pursuing opportunities on the Coast and are seeking board members to join us that have lived, legal, medical and financial experience.

Perhaps next year we can request that Isobel Mackenzie visit us again on the Coast and have a different discussion regarding practical solutions for aging coasters, more of a Town Hall model with breakout groups to gather relevant information that she can take back to our government policy makers. We cannot ignore the 13% that need to reside in LTC and our vision addresses more than just resident cost and provincial fiscal responsibility, it addresses the type of care one will receive in LTC and overall put the resident and the family at the centre of the care model. Although 13% seems like a low number, we have heard from residents in the Coast that Covid 19 had a significant impact on how they view LTC and care delivery, as we have entered a dialogue where it is now acceptable to discuss the care deficits that exist in the system that is supposed to be providing best care standards. We have also heard that there is a significant gap in the number of available LTC beds in the Coast and that there are seniors, families and couples some married for 70 years, that have faced this fate.

Paula Larrondo, BSW, RSW