BC Seniors Advocate Speaks in Ch’atlich (Sechelt)
62 year old Kelly Ashton died late last year in after a fall in a private for profit nursing home in Prince George, just the kind of facility we and many others have opposed here on the Sunshine Coast.
The legacy media mostly ignored the story but The Tyee fortunately ran a piece that eventually appeared in a few other media outlets. The general public may have forgotten about the tragedy that unfolded in the Long Term care during the pandemic, but seniors have not.
Our group – Sunshine Coast Alliance for Senior Care Co-op – was out in force this past Feb 6, when the Seniors Planning Table (Sechelt Resource Centre resourcecentre.ca) organized a well attended public forum with the BC Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie in Ch’atlich/Sechelt.
Mackenzie gave a inspiring talk on some of the well-know and lesser known short comings of senior care in BC.
Much of the statistics would be familiar to us in our group: that 67% of seniors live on an income between $15,000 and $25,000/year with more than half of seniors in BC living on an income that would be below the minimum wage were they working. That while the BC Seniors supplement was doubled in the past year to almost $100, it remains the 4th lowest in Canada. 24% of seniors live alone and only about 40% still have a drivers license past 85 years of age. Lastly, that 77% of those over 85 live independently while 13% live in LTC.
Who wants to go to Long Term Care? No one.
The last point caught my attention as I am a social worker working with seniors. I was reminded of a comment I heard at a recent refresher course I took, “The Plan is to have the majority of people dying in long term care homes by 2035.” Really? Whose plan? Most people I talk to say they “never want to end up in a nursing home.”
Mackenzie argued that our fractured health care system makes it exceedingly difficult for seniors to age-in-place because of costs. Many Seniors are house rich but cash poor. Homecare and homemaking services are expensive, along with food, taxes, energy costs and other expenses add up, making it harder and harder for seniors to age-in-place as they wish. Even though we know aging-in-place is better for you, connected to friends, family, community – and on the coast, nature – the system conspires to force seniors into facilities that cost the taxpayer far more than it would to help people stay at home, healthy, happy and active.
To make matters worse, we have created a system that claims to support autonomy and “least restrictive settings” yet passively forces people into long term care through lack of viable, affordable options. Once in long term care, Mackenzie argued, we are using public dollars to underwrite for profit care. Leaking tax dollars to owners. Tax dollars that could be used to hire more and better care staff.
The Problem on the Coast
As we all know, more and more people are retiring to the Coast. Qathet (Powell River) and the Swiya Sunshine Coast have one of the fastest growing senior communities in BC. Contrary to how this issue is often presented, this is not a “problem”. Our growing senior community is a diverse, dynamic and important source of economic activity on the Coast.
But let’s be honest with ourselvers Coasters! The folks moving here are already wealthy – they come from places like Ontario (Toronto alone has experienced a net exodus of 100,000 people in the past year) where they have sold homes for 2.5 million that they bought in 1989 for $200,000. And they come with healthy RRSPs and pension plans. Which is great for our local economy and BC of course. But what about life long residents of the Coast who have worked hard and lived on modest incomes and are retiring on what are very low incomes by any measure – as MacKenzie pointed out in her presentation? M
MacKenzie also did a very good job of illustrating the reality of our “public” health care system and the expensive, private, for profit home care supports that it depends on. My guess is that many of our newer residents can afford these supports when they aging and ill. But the rest of us are left being directed to the subsidized for-profit LTC system. Now that’s my definition of a Fail. A Failed system. Private for profit LTC and even the non-profit system is a very expensive way to take care of ourselves as we age. Not to mention most of us don’t want to “end up’ in LTC anyway.
HOW DID WE END UP HERE? AND WHAT IS THE ALTERNATIVE?
Our Elder Care system is a product of another time and place – the 1970s – a different society with a different set of challenges from those we face now. Today we are an aging society and we want to age at home if possible. We are much better educated, have much more information at our finger tips, have higher expectations and make bigger demands of the system. Demands that will not be met by Resident/Family Councils as promoted by Isobel MacKenzie. Kelly Ashton died in a LTC facility despite a Family Council and likely the circumstances of her death never made it across the table of the Prince George LTC Facility’s Resident/Family Council. These mostly toothless councils, consisting largely of hand-picked family members on good terms with Facility administrators, do not review issues like polypharmacy and over prescribing of anti-psychotics, despite the fact that thanks to the internet families, residents caregivers and others know much more about these issues than they are generally given credit for in our patriarchal, hierarchichal health care system.
If you know our group you know where I am going with this. We have alternative model that would empower residents, families, caregivers and the community: cooperatives, cooperation. Let’s create a system where seniors have real legal rights and participate in governance and ownership. Together we can create multi-stakeholder LTC, homecare agencies, and affordable assisted living with wrap around supports. Power to the people!
John Richmond, BSW, MSW, RSW (ON, BC)