Senior Care Commitments Getting Old
“We heard plenty about a Home First Strategy, whose implementation would improve the lives of seniors living at home. But once again, we have an example of government by intent, not action. Nothing has actually been done to improve the lives of seniors.”-David Coon
Article by: DAVID COON
Last Friday, the Healthy Aging and Long-Term Care Act came before a standing committee of the Legislature for detailed study and the consideration of amendments that follows Second Reading. Based on its title alone, you would expect this proposed law would implement government commitments made to seniors to improve the supports and services that would help them stay in their homes as they age. Not so. This a political bill designed to give the impression of action on seniors’ issues. It should have been called the New Brunswick Aging Strategy Act, because all it does is create a legal requirement to have an aging strategy, an advisory committee, and a small secretariat embedded in the Department of Social Development. None of these initiatives require the force of an actual law, as government can just implement them.
So where’s the beef?
Since Brian Gallant was elected we have repeatedly said that an aging population is the province’s largest challenge. We have heard, since the last election, how his government intends to focus on improving supports and services to seniors so they could remain in their home – age in place, as the jargon goes. We heard plenty about a Home First Strategy, whose implementation would improve the lives of seniors living at home. But once again, we have an example of government by intent, not action. Nothing has actually been done to improve the lives of seniors.
Yes, the Premier appointed a Minister for Seniors and Long-term Care 18 months ago, but he didn’t create a Department of Seniors and Long-term Care to do the work, nor did he publicly release the Minister’s mandate letter. There has long existed a Seniors and Long Term Care Branch within the Department of Social Development, which employs 25 people under an Assistant Deputy Minister, to oversee nursing home services, long term care, home support and disability services.
The Premier’s insistence that our aging population represents the Province’s largest challenge doesn’t line up with his actions. He and his Minister failed to take actual actions that will improve supports and services to seniors in their homes. In fact, retired professor and researcher Jeremy Rickards describes New Brunswick’s home care system as being in disarray.
There is a desperate shortage in the number of home support workers because they earn not much more than minimum wage, they earn nothing when travelling between clients which eats up a lot of time in rural areas, and they have to provide their own vehicle without reimbursement for fuel or mileage.
When Brian Gallant negotiated a new 10-year health accord with Ottawa, there appeared to be help at hand, with $125 million in new money to be dedicated to improving home care. The first installment should immediately go into improving the wages and working conditions of home support workers. However, the Minister of Health told me that, at least this year, the money will be used to fund the transfer of our extra-mural program to Ambulance New Brunswick and its management to the privately-owned Medavie Health Services. This I money that could have helped prepare meals for seniors, clean their homes, break their social isolation, and carry out all the other tasks that make it possible for seniors to stay in their homes.
Just like the other Maritime provinces, our population of seniors will only continue to grow. Forty two percent of seniors are now aged 75 or older. Neither our government nor society have altered their priorities to recognize this fact. It’s time to get to work, and we should do so in cooperation with the other Maritime provinces and Newfoundland.
David Coon is the MLA for Fredericton South and the Leader of the New Brunswick Green Party.