May 1, 2009

Seniors’ care concerns should be taken seriously in this election


Access to residential care beds for seniors was dubbed “an election hotspot” by CTV early last week, and for good reasons. The party that forms government after May’s election will have to deal with the pressures that the aging population would put on the already strained system of seniors’ care in BC.

Fundamentally, providing an accessible home and community care system for our frail seniors is not only the morally right thing to do for our elders, it’s also the smart thing to do in terms of containing health care costs. Caring for seniors in the community is considerably cheaper than keeping them in hospitals (which is what happens when there is no available spot in residential care for seniors who can’t live independently).

An op-ed published in the Vancouver Sun on Thursday calls attention to the serious problems in seniors’ care in this province. The authors, Jeremy Tate and Marcy Cohen, who co-authored a recent CCPA study An Uncertain Future for Seniors: BC’s Restructuring of Home and Community Health Care, 2001-2008, blame “years of poorly planned restructuring and a failure to maintain (let alone enhance) access to key services” for the decline in seniors’ care. They call for “leadership and commitment to transparency, public consultation, good planning and increased access to seniors’ care.”

But do the party platforms promise to deliver any of these things?

There are certainly important differences in the two parties’ approach towards seniors’ care. The Liberal platform mentions seniors 23 times, but seldom in the context of health care. The closest they come to seniors’ care is promising to invest in housing, more specifically 1,000 new homes for “seniors and people with disabilities.” Their health budget, however, tells us not to expect any meaningful increases in care beyond current levels.

The NDP platform, in contrast, explicitly acknowledges that seniors’ health care needs are not currently met as well as they should be, pledging to improve seniors’ care by adding 3,000 new residential care beds, re-opening some 300 beds in closed facilities (like Cowichan Lodge) and establishing a Representative for Seniors to address their issues and recommend policy reforms. There have been questions, however, as to whether the amount of money allotted for the cause would be sufficient.