Seniors separate 'on a regular basis' to afford care
Senior New Brunswick couples commonly get divorced or legally separated so they can afford nursing home care, says a seniors advocate.
'It is happening I would say on a regular basis and I think the reason why we do not hear about it is I feel that people are afraid.'— Veronica Ratchford, seniors advocate
As more people enter nursing homes, Veronica Ratchford, a representative from the Coalition for Seniors and Nursing Home Residents' Rights, said an increasing number of couples are legally splitting up so they can get government help with the cost of that care.
"It is happening, I would say, on a regular basis and I think the reason why we do not hear about it is I feel that people are afraid," Ratchford said.
"They're afraid to speak up against government policies and also they are embarrassed for the public to know their income and what financial situation that they're left with."
Judy MacKenzie, 66, and her husband, Alton, legally separated on Dec. 11 after 45 years of marriage.
Alton had at least two strokes in 2003 and has had to be cared for in a Miramichi nursing home ever since.
Judy, who now lives in Fredericton, said the bill for her husband's care is about $2,500 a month and the Department of Social Development is requiring her to pay about $700 of that.
After paying her rent, car payment and power bill, MacKenzie said she's left with less than $500 a month to cover groceries, prescriptions, gas and insurance.
The only way to pay less for her husband's care is to get a legal separation, she said.
Once it goes through, the cost of Alton's care will be based solely on his income, which should reduce the cost to the MacKenzies.
The Department of Social Development said last week that they wouldn't comment on individual cases, but a spokesperson said the provincial government offers financial assistance to clients who struggle to pay for care.
Seniors private about finances
Ratchford said this isn't an issue many people are aware of because seniors are often very private about their finances.
"A lot of the seniors feel that it's a government policy, this is the rules and they're left with no choice if they want their loved one to be placed in a nursing home then these are the dollars that they're obligated to pay," Ratchford said.
"So they don't speak out and they don't say anything and then the public is not made aware of it and then government really is not forced to make any changes."
Ratchford said she wants more seniors to speak out about the impact on their lives in an effort to embarrass the New Brunswick government into making changes.