Boyle McCauley News

Since 1979 • February-March 2024 • Circulation 5000

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No Christmas Presents for Seniors

I recently experienced two events that again reminded me that seniors do not merit attention from this government. As a result, their stockings will be filled with coal.

The first event was a meeting of the Seniors Task Force of Public Interest Alberta (PIA) with Health Minister Horne. There were about 20 representatives from various senior organizations: local, provincial, and national. The first item for discussion was the critical need for nursing home beds in Alberta. There are approximately 500 seniors currently occupying hospital beds waiting for nursing home placement. This is a provincial wide problem. In some smaller communities up to half the hospitals beds are occupied by seniors needing this level of care. Keeping seniors in hospitals cripples the whole health care system by using highly trained hospital health care workers to provide this non-acute care and backs up emergency wait times.

So the very first question the committee asked was: “Is the government going to be building additional nursing home spaces (as promised in the election and in previous statements)?” The Minister’s answer was that the government is not going to be building many or enough.

What the minister actually said, was that they are committed to building 1000 private assisted living units per year for seniors over the next five years. These units will include the capacity to provide up to nursing home care premised on the principle of “aging-in-place.” Sounds good, doesn’t it? If I translate this, it means the government is going to arrange for 1000 units per year to be built privately and there will be some nursing home capacity. Optimistically there might be three to five beds in each facility or say 50 additional beds per year. It is going to take a long time before the backlog of seniors in hospital beds changes. Many of them will die first.

If you are a senior, my advice is that you cultivate a friendship with someone who can be an advocate or that you start educating your children, grandchildren, or nieces/nephews so they will be there to help you. You will need them.

The second event relates to Alberta Seniors Benefits. Alberta Seniors Benefits (ASB) is a financial assistance program for low income seniors. When a senior moves into a nursing home, their ASB subsidy increases by about $300/month to cover the additional cost of that level of care. My mother was eligible for this subsidy but when I checked her records, this subsidy for which we had applied had not been given. It was only given after I advocated on her behalf. This week, I was visiting another person who had recently moved into this level of care and when I checked her paperwork, she also did not get the additional subsidy. So I phoned again! Would other seniors and/or their family members know that they should be receiving this subsidy and know that they have to follow-up and advocate?

This is only one of the many problems in dealing with ASB. Their service is terrible. I regularly have to wait on the phone a long time before actually getting to talk to a representative and that only after the ubiquitous, “If you want…press 1, if you want…press 2” which many seniors have trouble hearing and navigating. The application process for special needs coverage, particularly for additional drug costs, requires some bureaucratic skill to maneuver. There are other easier options such as increasing Blue Cross coverage so the extra costs are covered in the first place. And, as happens in Ontario, all seniors could be sent information about this program so everyone is informed.

In talking with the other delegates from the various senior groups (at the PIA meeting), we all agreed that ASB was complicated, making it inaccessible for many seniors. Is this a purposeful money savings strategy? Many seniors I encounter don’t even know this program exists.

I can’t help but conclude that our government does not really care for its senior citizens. If you are a senior, my advice is that you cultivate a friendship with someone who can be an advocate or that you start educating your children, grandchildren, or nieces/nephews so they will be there to help you. You will need them.

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