Province abandons housing programs to pay for ill-considered seniors' care scheme

News release

The Campbell Liberals’ plan to divert scarce housing dollars to underwrite a radically stripped down version of seniors’ care will put this province on the brink of a public health disaster, warns a coalition of seniors, housing groups and front-line health care workers.

And the group says that the cost cutting scheme — which includes closing thousands of residential care beds and breaking a “new era” commitment to provide 5,000 more — is also bad news for the 10,000 B.C. households currently waiting for affordable housing.

“Nobody wins under this ill-considered policy,” says Joyce Jones of the Seniors’ Network-BC. “Thousands of elderly British Columbians will no longer have access to nursing home care. Instead, they’ll be stranded at home or placed into small apartments and forced to rely on already overloaded home support programs.

“That’s fine if your care needs are limited but it’s completely inadequate for the vast majority of residents in long-term and intermediate care homes who suffer from some form of dementia,” adds Jones. “It’s a recipe for more pressure on ERs and hospital wards.”

“By raiding federal and provincial housing dollars to pay for this plan, the province is compounding an already serious shortage of affordable housing stock and inviting a homelessness crisis,” adds Kimiko Karpoff of the Lower Mainland Network for Affordable Housing. “Family and independent seniors’ housing programs are at risk.”

The coalition says the mandate of the province’s housing agency has been narrowed to focus exclusively on the most vulnerable in a clear signal that $89 million in recently committed federal housing dollars for B.C. won’t be spent on affordable housing as was intended. Those housing dollars will be raided to offset huge capital spending cuts in the health care budget.

According to the health ministry’s service plan, the Campbell Liberals have abandoned their “new era” commitment to provide 5,000 badly needed intermediate and long-term care beds. Instead, the province will provide 5,000 home and community care placements which will boost the number of frail elderly living with serious care needs on their own. And the coalition believes that between 6-8,000 existing residential care beds and an unknown number of affordable housing units could be targeted for conversion into so-called “assisted living” placements.

— 30— Backgrounder follows: For more information contact Mike Old, 604-828-6771 (cell)

BACKGROUNDER

March 26, 2002

The impact on health care

  • Prior to the election the Campbell Liberals promised to improve access to long-term care by building 5000 new not-for-profit long-term care beds.
  • The government has reneged on this promise. Instead they are reducing access by making admission criteria far more restrictive for publicly funded long-term care facilities. Six thousand to 8,000 people currently in long-term care will not be eligible under the new rules.
  • Already there have been announcements of closures of long-term care facilities — Peace Arch Extended Care in White Rock, Cascade in Burnaby, May Bennett in Kelowna, Gorge Road in Victoria — and reductions in the number of beds in other facilities — Heritage Village in Chilliwack, St. Michael’s Centre in Burnaby, Langley Memorial Extended Care, Fir Park Village in Port Alberni. Leaked documents indicate nearly 1,000 beds will be cut in the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority alone. This is only the beginning as many more announcements are expected to follow as health authorities prepare their budgets for the next year.
  • The Fraser and Interior health authorities have closed their waitlists. No one is currently able to access long term care unless it is an emergency. This leaves many seniors at risk in the community.
  • Seniors denied access to publicly-funded long-term care are expected either to remain in their own homes, go into “assisted living” housing, or pay for care privately.
  • To move this strategy forward, the provincial government plans to use recently allocated federal government funding (earmarked for affordable housing) to build 3,500 “assisted living” housing units.
  • “Assisted living” is for people who need “care” but are able to live somewhat independently, usually in a small apartment unit.
  • Professionals and front-line care providers who work with the frail elderly in B.C. are very concerned that the level of care and physical environment of the “assisted living” placements will not be appropriate for the approximately 60 to 70 per cent of residents in long-term care who suffer from some form of dementia. They’re also concerned that this model will shift responsibility of care to families and individuals, and increase the burden on informal caregivers, home nursing and home support services. Impact on housing
  • BC Housing’s mandate has been narrowed from “working together to create homes, choices and healthy communities” to focus exclusively on “the most vulnerable in our communities,” primarily the frail elderly who are no longer eligible for admission into long-term care.
  • New federal money intended for affordable housing would be used to deliver a “health” or “care” model of building assisted housing units for the frail elderly. For example, under this program, 1000 existing units of non-profit housing will be converted to assisted living housing or care units.
  • The non-profit housing providers, which will be invited to partner to provide assisted living housing historically have not been care providers. They already face financial and administrative challenges in providing housing to seniors.
  • The Homes BC Program, in its current form, will no longer exist. This program, started in 1994, has resulted in the provision of over 5,000 units of non-profit and co-operative housing, and has been credited with the prevention of significant number of visible homeless that other provinces have experienced.
  • The province recently announced that 1,000 allocated units of non-profit and co-operative housing would not be going ahead at this time. Over the next three years, there will be no new funding to support the construction of non-profit and co-operative housing units. This will significantly limit access to affordable housing for families, people who are homeless, single individuals and/or healthy seniors.
  • There are currently 10,000 B.C. households on waitlists for affordable housing.
Questions and Answers 1) What is the difference between supportive housing and assisted living programs for seniors?

Supportive housing is designed to assist seniors to remain in the community by providing housing with a combination of support services, including at a minimum:

  • a private space with a lockable door,
  • a safe barrier-free environment,
  • monitoring and emergency response,
  • at least one meal a day, and
  • housekeeping, laundry and recreational activities.
Assisted living is housing for seniors who require a higher level of support and who have specific health care needs, but are able to live somewhat independently. In assisted living there is usually a dining room and personal health care staff, but not profession nursing staff, on site.

2) What is the current situation for tenants in B.C.?

B.C. has the lowest vacancy rates in Canada. For example, Victoria, with a large population of seniors, has the lowest vacancy rate in the country at 0.5 per cent. At the same time, B.C. rents are high — an average of $770 per month. Half of B.C.’s 1 million renters live in unaffordable housing, meaning they pay more than 30 per cent of their income on rent. One in four pay more than 50 per cent of their income housing, meaning that they are at risk of homelessness.

This news release and backgrounder is supported by the following groups:

  • Prince George Housing Coalition
  • Tenants’ Rights Action Coalition
  • Seniors Network — BC
  • Council of Senior Citizens’ Organizations
  • Lower Mainland Network for Affordable Housing
  • Kamloops Active Support Against Poverty Society
  • Seniors Summit
  • Nanaimo Community Housing Services Society
  • Okanagan Tenants Advocate Society
  • Terrace Anti Poverty Group
  • The Advocacy Centre-Nelson
  • Hospital Employees’ Union (CUPE)
  • B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union
  • British Columbia Health Coalition
  • British Columbia Federation of Labour
  • British Columbia Nurses’ Union
  • Carnegie Community Action Project
  • West Shore Community Resources
  • CUPE BC