B.C. begins overhaul of senior care

The B.C. government has launched an effort to simplify the path navigated by families finding health care for the elderly.

Health Minister Mike de Jong listens as Michael McKnight of the United Way explains non-medical home support pilot project.

Health Minister Mike de Jong listens as Michael McKnight of the United Way explains non-medical home support pilot project.

VICTORIA – Faced with a sweeping report from the B.C. Ombudsperson on problems and inconsistencies in senior care, Health Minister Mike de Jong has launched an effort to simplify the path navigated by families finding health care for the elderly.

Ombudsperson Kim Carter’s new report, called Best of Care, makes 176 recommendations, including a need to provide clearer information to people seeking a space in a care home or assisted living facility.

De Jong said the health ministry will launch a toll-free phone line by June for people to express concerns about the system. A new seniors’ advocate office is to be established at an unspecified later date.

De Jong agreed with Carter’s finding that it is too difficult for families to find care spaces, and to determine if they are eligible for public subsidies. He also agreed that the government hasn’t sufficiently analyzed its home care support program, which helps keep 90 per cent of B.C. seniors out of care facilities.

The government announced a $15 million budget to expand a pilot program run by the United Way to help people with shopping, gardening, transportation and other non-medical supports so they can stay in their homes.

The program has been working in five Lower Mainland communities and it is to expand to up to 65 over the next three years.

Other measures are aimed at providing palliative care at home for terminally ill patients. Training for doctors and home health providers is to begin in April, and an after-hours palliative care nursing support phone line is also be established this spring.

De Jong said priority will be given to keeping elderly couples together when they have different health care needs that force them to be separated.

The seniors’ advocate should be able to deal with financial disputes at private care facilities as well as helping seniors find adequate care in the public system, de Jong said.

The report and promised overhaul comes as B.C. is beginning to feel the weight of baby boom retirement. The number of B.C. seniors is approaching 800,000, or 12 per cent of the total population, and that is expected to double by 2029. Life expectancy in B.C. is nearly 82 years on average, and rising.

Health care costs rise rapidly in the later years of a person’s life, and the cost is compounded due to longer life expectancy.

The health ministry calculates that the average annual health care cost is $2,398 for a person between the ages of 15 and 64. From 65 to 69 the average cost jumps to $6,073, and after age 80 it triples again to $18,906 a year.