British Columbia

B.C. home support program falling short, says seniors advocate

New reports says the public system is too expensive for many seniors and inadvertently pushes some into long-term care prematurely.

New reports says the public system is too expensive for many seniors, pushing some into long-term care

B.C. Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie. (Jonathon Hayward/The Canadian Press)

The provincial home support program is failing B.C. seniors and inadvertently pushing many into taxpayer subsidized long-term care earlier than necessary, according to a new report by the Office of the B.C. Seniors Advocate.

"We are falling seriously short of meeting the needs of the clients who are receiving home support and we are falling seriously short of providing home support to those who need it," said  B.C. Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie.

Home support is supposed to allow seniors to live independently in their home for as long as possible by providing help with dressing, bathing, making meals and other necessary daily activities.

But the report found that primarily due to the expense, over 60 per cent of seniors entering long-term care did not receive any home support in the 90 days leading up to admission.

"Why are we not getting in there and giving a little bit of help — just a little bit — to see if it will delay or eliminate moving to long-term care," said Mackenzie.

The report says a senior with an average annual income of $27,800 would have to pay almost $9,000 — a third of his or her income — for a daily home support visit.

But it costs taxpayers an average of $28,000 more per year if that same senior is in a long-term care bed.

"We've set up a perverse incentive system where we're charging seniors more for something that costs the taxpayer less to provide," said Mackenzie.

"As a consequence, what we're seeing is seniors moving into long-term care prematurely in many cases because of economic circumstances."

The report also said that community health care workers who provide home support need better supports themselves, including higher wages.

"We have a workforce that is overwhelmingly casual and part-time," said Mackenzie. "They get paid $5 per hour less than the cashier in the BC Ferries gift shop."

Some of the other findings include:

  • 43,000 B.C. seniors receive home support each year.
  • 63 per cent of home support clients receive less than an hour of care per day.
  • 51 per cent of home support clients are assessed as high or very high risk for long-term care placement yet they receive on average 1.2 hours or less of care per day.
  • 15 per cent of long-term care residents could be living in the community, the equivalent of 4,200 beds.
  • Nearly one-third of family caregivers are in distress.
  • 75 per cent of home support staff are casual or part-time

The report also recommends developing province-wide standards for home care duties and making it more affordable for people in need.

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