Monday, March 06, 2006

Seniors' care problem simple - not enough beds

VICTORIA - There’s nothing complicated or mysterious about what happened to Al and Fanny Albo, the couple so cruelly separated days before her death.
There aren’t enough hospital beds and long-term care spaces to meet the need. That means people suffer.
It’s time for an independent look - across all five health authorities - at how bad the problems are, and what we can do to fix them.
It’s fine that the Interior Health Authority has finally acknowledged procedural problems, and promised changes.
But ultimately this is a capacity problem, one the government acknowledged before taking office. They have chosen not to fix it. Other priorities - tax cuts, spending, paying down the debt - came first.
Take Trail. Since 2001 about 120 long-term care beds have been closed, and 30 new ones opened. That’s a loss of 90 places for frail seniors in in a community with many old people whose children have moved away and a high rate of heart disease.
The Albos - in part because their story was so terrible - have captured political and public attention. But anyone who kept an eye on the Trail Times and papers across B.C. has read similar sad stories. (Which makes the IHA’s sudden discovery of the problems bizarre.)
At the same time home support in Trail has been cut. The Albos were promised adequate home care but didn’t get it, the likely reason they both ended up in the Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital.
The hospital is also struggling. Health authority statistics for October show the hospital was at more than 100-per-cent capacity almost every day. At times it was trying to deal with 20-per-cent more patients than it was supposed to house.
No wonder hospital administrators are desperate to get seniors out, when patients are stacked in the halls waiting for those beds. The average wait for long-term care in the Interior is 88 days, up almost 50 per cent from a year ago. A senior in acute care is seen as a big problem.
Al Albo watched Health Minister George Abbott respond to his wife’s death only hours before he too died. His son Jerome said they appreciated Abbott’s apology, but were disappointed at much of what he said. "It seemed the government was trying to limit this to being a problem unique to Trail," he said. "It's a province-wide problem.”
He’s right. Back in 2002 the Liberals released their long-term care plan. The province was short 4,200 beds at that moment, the government said. By 2006, it would add 5,000 beds, in line with the 2001 campaign promise - about 1,000 a year.
Since then the population over 75 has increased by about 15 per cent. So today the province should have added about 6,500 beds to meet the need.
Instead, the government has added 607 beds in four years.
There are reasons. The government says the existing beds were in worse shape than they expected, and many had to be closed or fixed. But they knew that in 2002 when they announced a “plan” for 5,000 beds.
People in communities across B.C. pleaded with the government. Keep the old care homes open - even with their flaws - until replacements were ready. The government didn’t, just as it didn’t accelerate the building process once it fell behind.
The government says about 2,300 beds will open this year. But meeting the actual need is still years away.
Abbott has been resisting opposition calls for an independent look at the issue.
But it’s time. We need to know how serious the shortage is, where it’s worst and what we can do. Seniors deserve that.
So do taxpayers . The costs of coping - warehousing seniors in acute care beds, admitting people who might have still been at home with proper support - are likely greater than the costs of fixing the problem.
There’s no benefit in hiding from the problem. Let’s get the facts, and decide what we’e prepared to do to fix it.
Footnote: The Liberals should leap at a review. Families who were suffering in silence have seen the Albo case as a all to action. Abbott is going to spend this entire legislative session dealing with a string of sad cases raised by the opposition if he isn’t willing to announce a proper review.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Privatization: Politics Over Public Policy

"People in communities across B.C. pleaded with the government. Keep the old care homes open - even with their flaws - until replacements were ready. The government didn’t..."

It would be interesting to compare how many public beds were closed and how many private beds were closed. Me thinks the private sector did not lose much in this politically driven privatization drive.

Anonymous said...

It comes down to our priorities, as reflected in the priorities of the governments we elect. We want to bask in the reflected glory of the big party in 2010; we want the booming economy, less taxes and new highways to open up our $60,000 SUVs. We want to rub our hands as we watch our home values and stock portfolios steadily climb.

Who wants to think ahead to what we're going to do for Granny & Gramps when they get to that stage; or the struggle that cousin Fred is undegoing to get mental health services. Why give ourselves heartburn worrying about the teens we pass on the street who should be in foster homes, teh addicts or the dyslexic kid next door who's depressed & struggling in school.

It's all too depressing -- better to shut it out and cheer ourselves up by planning that spring break getaway in Hawaii that we've worked so hard towards. We're doing our best for our families and that's all anyone can expect, right?

Until we take ownership of our wider communities and the problems therein, nothing will change. Most of us will roll along--not really happy, but thinking we're at least secure--until we hit one of these bumps and it all falls apart, and we finally get that everything we built for ourselves was largely meaningless and illusory.

wstander said...

This is the story (the CHOICE that was made)- the rest is simply padding:

"... this is a capacity problem, one the government acknowledged before taking office. They have chosen not to fix it. Other priorities - tax cuts, spending, paying down the debt - came first."

As usual Willocks cuts to the chase.