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Ombudsperson details senior care problems, government promises new advocate

British Columbia Ombudsperson Kim Carter today released a detailed report on problems with seniors' care in the province and suggestions to improve the system.

"During the investigation, the Ombudsperson found that the Ministry of Health has not made sure that seniors and their families have access to adequate assistance and support to navigate the complex home and community care system," a press release announcing the 400-page report said.

Nor has the ministry "analyzed whether the home support program is meeting its goal of assisting seniors to live in their own homes as long as it is practical," it said. And it's not enough to rely on complaints and serious incident reports as its main form of oversight for assisted living, it said.

The report, titled The Best of Care: Getting it Right for Seniors in British Columbia (Part 2) includes 143 findings and 176 recommendations.

The health authorities and the health ministry were consulted during the writing of the report, and it includes their responses, dated in early January.

Moments after the Ombudsperson's report was submitted to the legislature and made public, Health Minister Mike de Jong released a 10-page "action plan" on improving care for B.C. seniors.

It included plans to create an Office of the Seniors' Advocate and a toll-free phone line for seniors and their families by June, 2012. The ministry also plans to make it easier to get information about care facilities, including online access to facility reports.

"The change does come at a price," said de Jong, noting that health authorities already spend $2.5 billion a year on home and community care. Money to meet the goals set in the action plan will have to come from existing health authority budgets, he said.

The government recently raised the fees for long-term care and is encouraging health authorities to spend that money in areas identified in the Ombudsperson's report, he said.

The province will also give $15 million to the United Way to expand a project that will provide non-medical home support to seniors in 65 communities over the next three years.

NDP Leader Adrian Dix said his party introduced legislation in 2007 to create an advocate for seniors and that it shouldn't have to take six more months for the government to study the idea. The NDP would happily co-operate with the government if it wants to go ahead to pass the necessary legislation by the end of next week, he said.

"This is not a very serious response to a very comprehensive report," said Dix. The report is compelling when it talks about the government's mismanagement of the system and the effect on seniors when care homes are closed or staff are laid off, he said.

"This response unfortunately tries to damp down a serious debate we have to have on seniors care in the province," he said. "I think it's very disappointing."

The Ombudsperson's report builds on a 2009 report on the long-term care sector.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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