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Premier Christy Clark during her year end interview with the Globe and Mail in Victoria December 9, 2013.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

Premier Christy Clark, responding to the death of a 76-year-old woman with dementia who wandered from her care home, is calling for more specialized beds and the redesign of care facilities for those with the illness.

Ms. Clark suggested Tuesday that money is no object in responding to the affliction and that she expected the number of people with dementia will double within a short period of time as baby boomers age. So, she said, there's a need for a long-term change in health care that includes opening up more specialized beds for those with dementia.

She also said her government is working with health-care authorities on a change in the design of health-care facilities.

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"Many people suffering from dementia need to wander. That's part of the disease and we need to give them space to wander," Ms. Clark said at a news conference dealing with her recent Asian trade mission. "Your average hospital or long-term care ward doesn't have that capacity," she told reporters, calling for such options to be built into the health-care system.

"They are permanent changes," she said of her proposed strategies. "They are costly changes, but we absolutely have to make them.

"We have to pay attention to this issue as a country, as a province," Ms. Clark said.

But the Premier's declaration left the opposition New Democrats exasperated.

Seniors critic Katrine Conroy noted that dementia has been a crisis ever since she was elected to the legislature in 2005 so she could not understand why the B.C. Liberals have not acted assertively on the file before now.

"[The Premier] is out of touch with reality. We've been talking about this for a number of years now."

Rather than promising expansion in the system, Ms. Conroy said the government should focus on providing better care in existing beds, with an emphasis on safety.

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She also said Ms.Clark needs to heed the report of the B.C. ombudsman who raised concerns about seniors' care in a pair of reports issued in 2009 and 2012. In response last February, Ms. Clark promised the appointment of a seniors' advocate. However, the position has not yet been filled. Ms. Clark has said she hopes to have an advocate in place next spring.

The new debate was promoted by the death of Joan Warren, missing for two days from her North Vancouver seniors residence until her body was found over the weekend near a Lynn Canyon suspension bridge. Ms. Warren wandered away from the care home.

"What happened in North Vancouver was an absolute tragedy," said Ms. Clark, expressing her condolences to Ms. Warren's family. "That kind of thing just shouldn't happen."

Between 60,000 and 70,000 people in B.C. have dementia, according to the Ministry of Health, which launched a two-year plan to improve treatment options for dementia patients.

Ms. Clark, on Tuesday, referenced the last days of her mother, Mavis, who suffered from dementia as part of the brain cancer that ultimately took her life.

"It's an incredibly difficult burden for families to deal with without help," said Ms. Clark.

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