Commentary by Rosaire L’Italien for The Daily Gleaner
Our care system for seniors is in crisis and will continue to get worse without action.
According to the New Brunswick Medical Society, some 25 per cent of hospital beds in this province are taken up by seniors awaiting placement in long-term care homes. Not only does living in a hospital cost an exorbitant sum of money, it is a dysfunctional and stressful way to live one’s life. Nobody wants to live in a hospital, yet hundreds of New Brunswick seniors are doing exactly that, in some cases for over a year.
It is not a grandmother’s or grandfather’s fault that they are stuck in hospital. It is our government’s fault. The processes, the system and the lack of resources are leading to this crisis. This is an undignified and disrespectful way to treat the seniors who built our province.
Placing seniors in hospital beds is the most expensive way this problem could possibly be dealt with. Government reports say we could save $37 million to $51 million annually by reducing our “alternate level of care” patients’ length-of-stay. This is a massive sum of money, far more than the $7 million a year the government is trying to save by outsourcing 280 hospital cooking and cleaning jobs to a private company which will cut wages and cut corners, endangering our most sick and vulnerable. This is yet another example of the lack of vision of the Gallant government – not only is it short sighted, it makes life harder for the people of this province.
Last week I demanded answers from the minister responsible, Lisa Harris, on CBC’s political panel as to why scarce beds in nursing homes are being taken up by youth with disabilities. Young people need to be placed in appropriate facilities, not parked in facilities which are not equipped to their needs. This would free up much needed beds in nursing homes for seniors living in hospitals. This, in turn, would free up resources in hospitals and reduce costs. It has been a longstanding NDP policy to end the practice of placing young people with disabilities in nursing homes, which would free up spaces for seniors stuck in hospital beds awaiting long term care. I hope the government will take our policy idea and put it into practice, as it will improve the lives of many New Brunswickers.
There are also some good things happening that require more support and funding from our politicians. The senior citizens assistance program, which provides funds to seniors who wish to stay in their own homes yet lack the means to make necessary repairs, and the home first strategy to increase supports for seniors who require additional supports to stay in their home are good, proactive ideas that need less rhetoric and more funding from the government.
As a province we have a responsibility to care for our seniors. They built this province for us and now we are letting them down. New Brunswick’s seniors deserve better.
Rosaire L’Italien is interim leader of the New Brunswick NDP.