Friday, April 24, 2009

Residential care for seniors should be big issue

Eight years in power, and the Liberals are still fumbling  the issue of residential care for seniors. The Liberal New Era campaign pledge in 2001 was clear - an additional  5,000 new intermediate and long-term care beds by 2006. It was an important promise. When the time comes that you, or your  parents, can't live independently, you want desperately to have  residential care available, close to friends and family. That was far from certain when the Liberals took over, because there  just weren't enough spaces.
In less than a year, the Liberals started backtracking on the promise.  The numbers shifted, but the promised 5,000 beds turned into some  1,000 intermediate and long-term care beds and some additional  supports for seniors.
Even that was fuzzy and the government couldn't say how many beds were  actually needed.
I went through a couple of months of work in late 2004 and 2005 to try  and find out how many beds had been added. (The government had already  rewritten its plan to allow an extra two years to deliver the 5,000  beds or spaces or whatever.)
After leaping through an array of bureaucratic obstacles I finally  established that across the whole province, by the health authorities  own count, had added 100 long-term care beds in about four years. The  seniors' population had increased by eight per cent in the same period. The Liberals now claim they have delivered on the promise. But Health  Minister George Abbott confirmed this week that there were in fact  only 800 more residential care beds than there were in 2001. The  increase has come in assisted living spaces, which are certainly needed. But by the Health Ministry's own definition, those are not residential  care beds, as promised. So if the Liberals were correct and there were  5,000 too few beds seven years ago, the problem has certainly worsened. One of the striking things in the whole eight years of confusion is  the lack of the most basic information - like how many beds are  actually needed. The promises have been plucked from the air. There are some useful measures. One is wait times, which continue to  be a problem.
The Liberal campaign claims waits have fallen from one year under the  former government to 15 to 90 days. But the one-year number was based  on a previous system, in which people put their names on waiting lists  long before they needed care. Waits of three months are too long. People waiting for residential care are often unable to remain in  their homes for a wait of two to 13 weeks. In many cases, they simply  cannot care for themselves.
Until that wait is over, they are likely to be sent to hospital bed. That's extremely expensive. It is bad for the seniors, confined in a  strange environment. And it means surgeries are cancelled and people  wait in emergency rooms because acute care beds aren't available. In 2001, some 15 per cent of acute care beds were tied up  inappropriately in this way. The problem remains at similar levels. The Liberal platform promises 1,000 new homes for "seniors and persons  with disabilities" in the next year. The health budget does not  provide for any significant increase in care beyond current levels. The NDP platform goes farther, promising to re-open 300 beds in closed  facilities and adding 3,000 beds to fill the gap. The New Democrats  are pledging $275 million over three years, plus $210 million in  capital spending - an amount the Liberals say is inadequate. The New Democrats are also promising appointment of a Representative  for Seniors to address their issues and report on progress. A similar  commitment from the Liberals would be welcome; it is too easy for  seniors and their issues to be forgotten. What's missing in all this is a clear, five-year plan for seniors' care. And that should make most British Columbians, whether they are older  themselves or thinking about family members, quite uncomfortable.

1 comment:

jen said...

Yes, it's mighty curious why there's so little in the mainstream media about health care, especially the care of seniors. What about the senior who was left in a restraint for 12 hours in a Victoria care home a six months ago? What about the naked photos of residents in a care home taken for sport by staff in the Okanagan last year? What about the BC Ombudsman's Inquiry into seniors' health care underway right now, that was initiated because they had received an overwhelming number of complaints? The media's role in ignoring these matters, and moaning about "no issues" is alarming. I'm stunned by the downplaying of important issues by the media, the most I've seen in any election coverage so far.