Oscar and Rose Parsons say they were heart-broken when they closed their small personal care home in Birchy Bay. ((CBC))

The organization representing dozens of small personal care homes in rural Newfoundland and Labrador says many members have no choice but to close because of government neglect.

"The care of senior citizens in rural Newfoundland is not a priority for this government," said Shaun Lane, president of the Personal Care Home Owners Association.


Shaun Lane: 'The care of senior citizens in rural Newfoundland is not a priority for this government.' ((CBC))

Lane argues that government policy has been favouring larger, concentrated care homes, particularly those that have been setting up in the province's largest towns.

"What is a priority is making sure that larger business succeeds," he said.

There are roughly 100 personal care homes around the province, caring largely for elderly residents. About 80 per cent of the homes are in rural communities, and often the homes are the biggest employer in the community.

Even so, stagnant growth in government support has meant that many operators offer minimum wage, and even then, operators have had trouble balancing their books.

Nine smaller personal care home owners have gone out of business in the past five years.

"I said that in 25 years of ministry, one of the worst things I ever had to do was come over here to this building and walk in and tell the people that I had to close the doors," said Rev. Oscar Parsons, who was forced to close a 21-bed home in Birchy Bay several months ago when he and his wife, Rose, were unable to sustain the business.

"I had no choice."

The couple, who are still on the hook for a mortgage worth $300,000 for the home, have moved to Alberta.


Genevieve Kennedy reads a letter that Danny Williams sent her in 2003, expressing his displeasure with funding for personal care homes. ((CBC))

They say they were disturbed when the provincial government awarded licences for five new — and substantially larger — facilities in the Lewisporte area, including one owned by Paul Oram, who would become the minister of health. All have 50 or more residents, and are large enough to qualify for low-interest, federally backed mortgages.

"When it came to staffing and stuff like that, it's not a level playing field," Parsons said.

"If a [home has] 50 or 60 beds, they have the same amount of people or staff as a 20- or 22-bed home. So, how can it be a level playing field? It can't."

Other operators say they are still barely hanging on.

Genevieve Kennedy, who runs Kennedy Care Home in Holyrood, said her troubles with government date back many years, to when former Liberal premier Clyde Wells was still in office, and when his government began deregulating the home-care industry.

In 2003, when the Liberals were still in power, Kennedy took her concerns to the Progressive Conservatives. Danny Williams, who was Opposition leader at the time, replied to her letter, with a handwritten postscript that said: "The plight of small homes is unacceptable. Please keep me informed."

However, Kennedy has been unable to meet with Williams since he became premier later that year.

"I've been at the top of the building, sitting outside the premier's door, talking to his executive assistant," Kennedy told CBC News.

"I've gotten that far but I've walked away with nothing."

Kennedy said she is not sure how much more she wants to fight the issue. "How long do you live on hope?" she said.

A report completed for the Personal Care Home Owners Association in February found that government funding for homes is not rising fast enough to offset recent minimum wage increases. The report found the smaller homes are the hardest hit.

"There's either a gross oversight in how our industry has been legislated or there is an agenda to put older, smaller personal care homes out of business," Lane said.

"They want to centralize everyone to the larger centres. You drive along the Trans-Canada [Highway] and you'll see new personal care homes just off the highway, and those are the ones where government, [where] their own legislation is pointing towards."

No one from the provincial government has been available to address the association's concerns with CBC News.