Report on seniors’ services: It’s best at home

Local reaction to report by B.C. Seniors' Advocate Isobel Mackenzie

While health officials across the country agree expanding home care will best serve a growing senior population, the total number of home-care hours declined in three out of five health regions in B.C.

That’s one of the findings in the inaugural report on seniors’ services by B.C. Seniors’ Advocate Isobel Mackenzie, Monitoring Seniors’ Services, released late last month.

The report found the total hours of home support delivered to clients was down four per cent on Vancouver Island, where the senior population is growing. Parksville Qualicum Beach is one of the oldest communities in Canada with a median age of 63.9.

Mackenzie said there has been an increase in seniors served by home-care workers in most regions, but the hours received by each has declined. She said the data on hours reflects what she has heard from seniors around the province, who report that their home-care services are being reduced.

“That’s a big problem,” said Alberni Pacific Rim MLA Scott Fraser.

“Home support is key for senior care. Most people don’t want to leave their home. They want to stay at home as long as possible for quality of life. This (report) shows home support is trending down though the number of clients is increasing.”

Fraser credits the government with the creation of a seniors’ advocate office, which he called “positive.” B.C. is the only province in the country with a seniors’ advocate.

However, he noted that in 2008 B.C. Ombudsperson Kim Carter initiated a province-wide systemic investigation into senior care which found “many failures in the system for seniors… most of them haven’t been addressed.”

Fraser said the findings in both reports are disappointing.

“It doesn’t seem like seniors are a priority to this government,” he said. “I have a big problem with how seniors who helped build our health care system in their final years are not getting the services they certainly deserve.”

But Parksville Qualicum MLA Michelle Stilwell, Minister of Social Innovation and Social Development, said the report “speaks to the high quality of senior care we receive in B.C.”

Stilwell applauded the province’s unique creation of a seniors advocate and noted there’s more to be done.

“When we look at today’s seniors, more want to live at home as long as possible. We need to ensure we are creating more integrated systems of support to enable them to stay in community and at home,” she said.

“We’ve been working to increase access to home support over the years.”

Stilwell said health authorities have spent a lot on home and community care over the years.

She also noted programs like the Society of Organized Services (SOS) Better at Home program which helps seniors stay home longer.

“We’ve known across Canada about our aging population for 20 years,” she said.

“We continue to make progress, increase funding and services to ensure we are trying to care for that aging demographic.”

She said something that stood out in the report was the number of seniors who rent versus own a home is low in Parksville.

“That’s something that struck me as interesting,” she said.

“Knowing that the per cent of seniors who rent is only nine per cent… whereas in other communities like metro Vancouver it’s much higher. The average is around 20 per cent. Considering the fact that 80 per cent are homeowners and 78 per cent don’t have a mortgage, residents here are in good shape.”

The report also outlines a number of areas of concern, most notably the number of incidents of resident on resident aggression in residential care facilities. Data presented in the report confirm there were between 425 and 550 incidents of resident on resident aggression that resulted in harm in residential care reported in 2014/15. Based on these findings, the advocate will conduct a systemic review of resident on resident aggression this year.

The report focuses on 2014/2015 data highlighting key seniors services including transportation, health care, housing, income support and personal care. Further highlights include:

• There are 943 individuals on the wait list for a total of 4,430 subsidized assisted living units. There has been less than a one per cent increase in the number of subsidized assisted living units since 2012.

• The number of residential care beds in the province has increased by 3.5 per cent since 2012, but the population over 75 has increased 10 per cent during that time and the number of seniors placed within the 30-day target window has decreased from 67 per cent to 63 per cent in the past year.

• Eighteen per cent of licensed residential care facilities did not have an annual inspection within the last year.

• Income supports for seniors such as the Old Age Supplement and Guaranteed Income Supplement increased by one per cent. The B.C. Seniors’ Supplement, available to low-income seniors, has not increased in over 25 years.

• The Seniors Abuse and Information Line (SAIL) received 1,286 calls related to elder abuse in 2014 and 15 per cent of these calls reported the abuse had been going on for five or more years.

The Office of the Seniors Advocate is an independent office of the provincial government with a mandate of monitoring seniors’ services, issuing public reports focusing on systemic issues and providing information and referral to seniors and their families.

— With files from Tom Fletcher