B.C. Health Minister George Abbott said yesterday the province's Liberal government has met its commitment to build 5,000 new seniors' care beds - it's just that the "terminology" has changed.
Mr. Abbott's definitions are at odds with those used by B.C. Medical Association, and his own ministry website.
In 2001, the B.C. Liberals promised to "work with non-profit societies to build and operate an additional 5,000 new intermediate and long-term-care beds by 2006."
In 2005, Liberal Leader Gordon Campbell conceded that his government missed the target: "We're not going to be able to meet that goal," he said then. In the 2005 election campaign, the Liberals redefined the promise as a commitment to build 5,000 residential and assisted living beds.
"There is pretty much an even parallel between intermediate care and assisted living," Mr. Abbott said in an interview yesterday. "It's just the terminology has changed over time."
He said his government has since exceeded its target. It has funded a net increase of 800 residential care beds, 4,400 assisted living beds and 700 supportive seniors' housing units with home care.
"To me there is no failure," he said.
A glossary on his ministry's website defines intermediate and long-term-care beds as "complex care" that is meant "for people who require 24-hour supervision, personal nursing care and/or treatment by skilled nursing staff."
With assisted living, it states, "residents must be able to direct their own care."
And the BCMA, in a 2008 report, makes a similar distinction. In fact, it stressed that residential care and assisted living are not interchangeable. "Assisted living is not a substitute for residential care," the report states. "The government has mixed residential care and assisted living together, but they are entirely different - one provides care and one provides accommodation with some support services."
The New Democratic Party revised campaign plans yesterday after The Globe and Mail reported that the Liberals had increased the number of residential care beds by only 800.
Carole James, the NDP Leader, scrapped a planned announcement and instead stood on the sidewalk in front of a Vancouver seniors' care home, where she accused the Liberals of breaking a key election commitment from 2001.
"Gordon Campbell's government turned their backs on seniors and completely failed to keep their promise," she said. "It goes to the credibility of this government."
An NDP government would create 3,000 additional long-term-care beds by 2013. "We can't fix all the government's mess overnight," she said. "We are going to make a start."
Mr. Abbott said the NDP, when in government, had started moving toward the assisted-living model. He pointed to a January, 2001, Health Ministry report that shows the government of the day was looking at assisted living "as a quality alternative" for clients assessed as needing lower levels of intermediate care.
He said the shift to assisted living has proved to be a successful model: "We were able to take some of the pressure off 24/7 complex care which is associated with residential care."
When asked about his ministry's own glossary of terms for complex-care beds, Mr. Abbott said they are beside the point: Wait lists for seniors' housing are down compared to when the NDP was in government, and that is proof that the Liberals' approach has delivered.
"The whole debate is somewhat b.s. as far as I am concerned, the NDP have advanced a false argument. We have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in that area."
He pointed to a Victoria care home where the government spent more than $20-million in upgrades that resulted in fewer beds, but a better facility.