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Addressing seniors issues in the 2013 B.C. budget

Minister of State for Seniors Ralph Sultan. Photo: BC Gov Photos/Flickr

As mentioned in last week's Speech from the Throne and Tuesday's 2013 provincial budget, B.C.'s population is aging. It's projected the seniors population in B.C. will double over the next 25 years -- meaning more than 30 per cent of our population will be over the age of 65 by 2036. While the budget does mention aspects of health care needed to respond to this population shift ("doctor and specialist visits, prescription medications, home health care and residential care services" with attention to the "impacts of frailty, dementia and other health issues on seniors and their families" plus "enhancing the quality of life and supporting healthy aging in the community"), there is nothing in the budget to actually address these issues or ensure our system will provide appropriate care for our changing population.

Some of what's needed -- like investment in a substantially expanded public home support system, for example -- require new/increased funding. But if such investments go hand-in-hand with strong provincial leadership to create a more integrated, patient-focused health-care system, we'd also see savings not too far down the road. For example, integrated, accessible home and community-based health care services can help seniors live independently, stay healthy, and prevent crises that result in hospital stays. When the cost of treating a senior in hospital ranges from $825 to $1,968 per day compared to approximately $200 a day for residential care, investing in home support should be the obvious route for government to take.

Other needed reforms in seniors care would require only modest funds, yet were absent from either the throne speech or the budget. A year ago, in February 2012, B.C. Ombudsperson Kim Carter released the most comprehensive report on seniors care in B.C.'s history, making 176 recommendations on how we can make our system more organized and efficient, and more adequately and humanely meet the needs of our elders. Despite a healthy public discourse on seniors care inspired by the Ombudsperson's report, the provincial government has done little to take up these valuable recommendations to date, and neither the throne speech or budget contained plans to do so in future.

The budget does highlight the recent appointment of a Minister of State for Seniors in September 2012, and the plan to appoint a Seniors Advocate for the province (an announcement that has been recycled so many times in recent months that it shouldn't be new news for anyone).

I wonder how these new government positions will help to address the multi-faceted issues Kim Carter already spent over four years documenting, none of which directly called for the creation of new government appointments.

Not planning and organizing our health system to respond to our aging population is not just fiscally short-sighted. It also inherently undervalues the citizens who have collectively supported our economy and paid into our health system for decades, and means we aren't making the best use of our health-care dollars to ensure British Columbians of all ages can access the health services they need.

Photo: BC Gov Photos/Flickr

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