The B.C. Liberal government unveiled sweeping changes Tuesday to its approach to seniors’ care, announcing a plan it says will help seniors stay in their homes longer, protect them from various types of abuse and provide them with tools to more easily access information and services.
“Every senior in my view, and in the view of the government, deserves to live with dignity, with security and to expect certain standards of care,” said Health Minister Mike de Jong as he detailed the plan.
“Today, we are committing to a plan for immediate action.”
De Jong’s announcement came just minutes after the public release of a scathing report by B.C. Ombudsperson Kim Carter.
Following a years-long investigation, Carter’s report offered 176 recommendations on how to improve services such as home and community care and assisted living for seniors.
De Jong did not address each individual recommendation, but instead announced a series of broad changes, such as the creation of a seniors’ advocate and the creation of a toll-free phone line to help seniors and their families get information or report concerns about a person’s care.
“I think we need to do more to ensure a complex system of care is more easily navigated by those for whom it is designed to serve,” said de Jong.
He added the phone line will be established by June 1, and said the province will take between four and six months to consult on what exact powers and responsibilities the advocate should be given.
“The advocate will provide information, support, referrals,” he said, outlining some of the general parameters.
“It will be a place that seniors or their families can go when they encounter difficulties in their relationship with the state, or in some circumstances, challenges that they may be confronted by in private-sector relationships.”
Pointing out the vast majority of seniors don’t live in a long-term care home — 90 per cent of seniors live at home, he said — de Jong also rolled out a plan to help people stay in their homes longer.
“I agree with the ombudsperson when she concludes that the ministry has not properly analyzed if the home support program that we presently have is meeting its goal of assisting seniors to live in their homes as long as possible, and I agree that the home support program itself needs to change,” he said Tuesday.
In response, de Jong said the province is giving $15 million to the United Way to expand five pilot programs that provide services such as snow shovelling, home repair, housekeeping and other services that help seniors remain in their homes for as long as possible.
The money, he said, will expand the pilot to up to 65 communities across the province, something Michael McKnight, president and CEO of the United Way of the Lower Mainland, said will be a huge contribution.
“There’s a growing wave of issues that come with an aging population and in order to get ahead of that curve we need good research,” he said.
“We need good public policy and we need great front-line programs for people. All of today’s announcement contributes to this province being at the leading edge in North America of being ready to support our aging citizens.”
New Democratic Party seniors’ critic Katrine Conroy slammed the government for its approach, calling it a thin response to a serious issue.
“It’s been 11 years of seniors being abused and neglected in this province and we have this report that shows proof of that,” she said, referring to the Liberals’ term in office.
“And what do they come out with? They come out with quite a thin response with nothing really concrete. More reviews and what does that say to seniors in this province? I say that they need to show more commitment to seniors.”
In its plan, the government also pledged by December to develop a provincial elder abuse prevention, identification and response strategy.
To that end, the government announced it will give $1.4 million to the. B.C. Association of Community Response Networks to go toward prevention and education.
The government also said it would launch its SeniorsBC.ca website by this September to provide access to information on home and community health care programs, as well as detailed residential care facility inspection reports.
“It is important that seniors and their families have access to the information they require so they can make informed choices about care,” said de Jong.
De Jong added he also plans to streamline standards to make them the same across both public and private care homes.
He added government will also work toward a policy that will make it easier for elderly couples to stay together throughout their care.
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