Skip to main content

Most seniors in British Columbia can’t afford the public home-support system to keep them in their own homes for as long as possible, says a report from the province’s advocate for seniors.

Isobel Mackenzie said Wednesday data compiled by her office concludes home-support service is too expensive for thousands of seniors and many end up in long-term care facilities where it is cheaper for them, but more costly for taxpayers.

“We’ve set up a perverse incentive system where we’re charging seniors more for something that costs the taxpayer less to provide,” she said at a news conference. “As a consequence, what we’re seeing is seniors moving into long-term care prematurely.”

Home support, which can include dressing, bathing, meal preparation and respite care, is intended to allow seniors to live independently longer and delay or prevent admission to long-term care facilities, Ms. Mackenzie said.

Each year in B.C., more than 40,000 people receive up to 8.8 million hours of home support by about 10,000 community health workers, but it’s not enough and too expensive, she said.

“What we see here is a system that is woefully, woefully underservicing clients and distressed family caregivers,” Ms. Mackenzie said.

The Ministry of Health did not immediately comment on the report.

The 57-page report makes seven recommendations and Ms. Mackenzie said it is the first in-depth examination of the home-support system, which has an annual budget of $500-million.

She said the report found seniors with an income of $28,000 would pay $8,800 for about two hours of daily home care, which amounts to about 33 per cent of annual earnings. A senior with the same income would save $9,780 living in long-term care, but taxpayers would pay $36,875 more, Ms. Mackenzie said.

The report also found that 15 per cent of long-term care residents, which amounts to 4,200 beds, could be living in the community.

Ms. Mackenzie said the home-support program is a lifeline for seniors who want to keep their independence, but the system needs to change.

“When we look at the data, it’s pretty clear: We are not providing near the amount of service we think we are,” she said.

Ms. Mackenzie said the former BC Liberal government and the NDP have introduced care improvements for seniors, but more resources are needed to allow seniors to live in their homes.

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.