Home support too expensive, fails to meet needs, seniors advocate says

Home-support services in B.C. are too expensive for most seniors, do not do enough for high-need clients and are staffed by people who are 75 per cent casual or part-time, says B.C. seniors advocate Isobel Mackenzie.

Those are the conclusions in her report Home Support … We Can Do Better, which was released Wednesday. Home support can include services such as bathing, dressing and meal preparation, and is meant to extend the time that seniors can live independently before moving into long-term care.

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“Seniors in our province tell me they want to age in their homes for as long as possible but the system which should enable that is falling short,” Mackenzie said.

“When more than 60 per cent of seniors are entering long-term care having received no home support in the months leading up to the placement and 62 per cent of family members are in distress, it is time to ask how effective the program is at assisting B.C. seniors to live at home.”

The report’s findings include:

• Public home support is unaffordable for most seniors: A senior with a $27,800 income can expect to pay $8,800 annually for once-a-day home-support visits.

• Fifteen per cent of long-term care residents (accounting for about 4,200 beds) could still be living in the community.

• A long-term care bed costs taxpayers about $27,740 more in a year than two hours of daily home support.

• Sixty-three per cent of home-support clients on average get under an hour of home support each day.

• Home support has not kept pace with the increasing number of seniors, with the seniors population having grown 22 per cent in the past five years while the number of home-support clients is up 15 per cent.

The issues highlighted in the report are something she sees as well, said Gudrun Langolf, president of the Council of Senior Citizens’ Organizations of B.C. — an umbrella group encompassing 70 to 80 seniors’ entities.

“There are a number of our members that have reported back from folks that they are aware of, their parents or their friends, who are in need of assistance and are getting an hour here, a half an hour there — stuff that is very, very important to them but just not enough.”

Langolf said her 95-year-old mother is still able to stay in her home with help from support services. Despite that, she said the way things operate needs more overall organization and to come under one umbrella.

“The whole system is too fragmented,” Langolf said. “It’s really important to get it regularized and to have a standard that is going to be used so you don’t have a huge number of employers and associations. I think the initiative is there, I think the will and the resources are there.”

Mackenzie said the numbers highlighted in her report have been reinforced by feedback from phone calls, letters and emails, “and together they point to need for change.”

Still, she pointed out that good things have also been happening for seniors.

“The government has made progress on many fronts in the support of seniors,” Mackenzie said. “They are increasing the care hours in long-term care, adding adult daycare spaces and creating more facility-based respite.

“I applaud them on these efforts and thank them on behalf of seniors who will benefit from the additional investments.”

But home support is in “desperate need,” she said.

“And we must find the resources to ensure that seniors who need just a little bit of help at home aren’t being pushed prematurely into long-term care because it is the only affordable option available to them, and that overwhelmed family caregivers aren’t faced with the heartbreaking decision to place their loved one in a care home because they could not get just a couple of hours of home support a day.”


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