Health Minister Mike de Jong outlined a series of tragic incidents involving senior care in British Columbia in recent years, assuring families that he's heard them and promising fundamental changes Tuesday.
Mr. De Jong mentioned the elderly Sidney man forced to fight to win back the thousands of dollars he deposited with a care home for his wife who died before she moved in.
He spoke about the Penticton couple, together for 60 years, who were separated due to their differing health needs.
He mentioned the North Vancouver man with dementia who choked to death while being fed by a caregiver, and "the situation confronted by a 71-year-old man found weighing 59 pounds in a Penticton motel."
Mr. De Jong said the B.C. seniors care action plan he announced was partly in reaction to a sweeping report by Ombudsperson Kim Carter and its 176 recommendations, but it is also the government's long-awaited plan to provide dignity to the lives of the province's elderly people.
"We do want to tackle the themes that have come up again and again," he told reporters.
"I've mentioned a few of them. We want to lay out via this action plan a blueprint for fundamental change."
Mr. De Jong said the government will focus on six areas of change, which include establishing a seniors advocate to ensure a more accessible and transparent approach to seniors care in British Columbia.
He also said the government will give the United Way of the Lower Mainland $15-million to expand home-support services in up to 65 B.C. communities.
Mr. De Jong said the services could be as easy as providing home and yard maintenance, but for seniors, those chores can sometimes keep them living independently for longer.
He promised a one-stop seniors services toll-free phone line by June.
Mr. De Jong said improved information for seniors and their families, including online access to facility reports and easier access to health needs, will be available by September.
He said consultations on the development of a provincial elder abuse prevention and identification response plan will start this month, with a program in place by December.
"Every senior deserves to live with dignity, with security and expect certain standards of care," said Mr. de Jong. "We intend to give a voice to seniors."
Ms. Carter's 448-page report, The Best of Care: Getting it Right for Seniors in British Columbia, makes 143 findings and 176 recommendations.
It concludes a three-year investigation into the care of seniors in B.C. and the recommendations are designed to improve home and community care, home support, assisted living and residential care services for seniors.
"We need to provide a renewed commitment to some of the most deserving and vulnerable members of our communities; a commitment that focuses on their needs, listens to their concerns and respects their choices," said Ms. Carter in a statement released with her report.
Ms. Carter did not attend the government's news conference where Mr. de Jong outlined the government's plans and response to the report.
The report stated the ombudsman found the Health Ministry does not make sure seniors and their families have access to adequate assistance and support to navigate the complex home and community care system.
The Health Ministry has also failed to examine whether the home support program is meeting its goal of assisting seniors to live in their own homes as long as it is practical, the report found.
The report stated that two pieces of legislation – the Hospital Act and Assisted Living Act – are conflicting and result in unfair differences in the care and services seniors receive and the fees they pay.
"Our goal is for there to be consistent, province-wide standards and processes that treat seniors across B.C. in a fair and equitable manner," Ms. Carter stated.
Ms. Carter launched her system-wide investigation into seniors' care issues in 2008 after numerous complaints about the treatment of B.C. seniors.
Her first report, released in December, 2009, made 10 recommendations and focused exclusively on issues affecting seniors in residential care.
Ms. Carter's December, 2009, report recommended clearly stating the rights of seniors living in residential care facilities and ensuring those rights are respected.
It called for timely access to useful, consistent and comparable information on residential care facilities and providing support for resident and family councils that offer seniors more influence over their living conditions.
Katrine Conroy, the Opposition New Democrat critic for senior care, said the Liberals have been disregarding seniors issues for years and she's not convinced Mr. de Jong's action plan is anything more than a promise to study a pressing issue.
"Is the government even taking this [Ombudsperson]report seriously, I question that?"
The Canadian Press