A New Deal for Seniors is Urgently Needed
A New Deal is urgently needed to restore the public faith in long term care while at the same
time creating a sense of hope for older adults to embrace elderhood.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shined a spotlight on the state of aged care: the living and working
conditions, infection control practices, inconsistent front line staff employment arrangements, a
need to restore public confidence in the elder care system.
The result of this attention has been some promising news has coming out of the civic seniors
care discourse across Canada.
In BC, a central theme of the provincial election campaign has focused on a better life for
seniors. The three major political party’s platforms promise to deliver improved care for older
On one side of the political spectrum the NDP promise 7,000 new health care workers with
levelled up standard wages, benefits and improved working conditions along with $1.4 billion
over 10 years to build care homes that replace multi-bed rooms. Improved home care enhancing
independence to enable aging in place and a silver alert system to help locate missing seniors
with dementia and Alzheimers.
On the other side of the political spectrum, the Liberal’s commitments include: $1 billion over 5
years to build long term care beds with private rooms and improved quality of care by addressing
worker shortages. Tax credits, home renovation programs and home care for seniors to age
safely in the comfort of their own home.
The Green Party, like the NDP pledge to end the public funding of for profit care. The Green
plan calls for a mix model of public, non for profit, community based services and co-ops.
Establishing a professional designation for seniors care workers. Establishing more
independence and expanded mandate for the Office of the Seniors Advocate and focusing more
on seniors care beyond just adequate medical care.
A bright note is the Liberals guarantee to eliminating ageism and unconscious bias across
government, to ensure all service are free of discrimination against seniors. As well as treating
senior drivers fairly by covering the cost of exams required every two years after the age of 80.
The provincial political party plans fall short of addressing the need to add net new long term
care and assisted living beds to meet the needs of an aging population. According to the
2017, Sizing Up the Challenge: Meeting the Demand for Long-Term Care in Canada, published
by the Conference Board of Canada, by 2035 an additional 199,000 long term care beds, nearly
double the 255,000 beds available in 2016, are needed unless changes to how health care for
seniors is delivered. The portion of new beds in BC is more than 20,000. The current cost of
construction of bed replacements for the outdated bed stock would hardly make a dent into the
pressures on the seniors care system. Billions more in capital spending is needed in the next 15
years to provide the same level of service to seniors as the population of eligible older persons over 75 and 85 increases.
Further annual operational funds will be needed to fund the day to day
costs of the new care homes. Creating new long term care and assisted living options for seniors,
would reduce pressure on acute care beds primarily Alternate Levels of Care (ALC) (people who
require long-term care but who are living in an acute care bed in a hospital because space is not
available at a long-term care facility). The waitlist in the community would decrease and help
reduce the pressure on family caregivers who too often live through a critical incident before
being eligible before moving into long term care.
The pandemic has brought to light shortcomings that hit close to home: institutional style meal
service, rationing of baths, reliance on medication interventions, personal care that focuses on the
medical and clinical and less direct care staff with dedicated time for quality of life.
We as a Canadians, need to strengthen aged care to ensure high quality programs and safe
services. With complex care and social needs, older adults who can no longer live independently
are a vulnerable population with diminished ability to advocate for themselves. We must be their
voice.We as Canadians covet our rights and freedoms. We must find ways to ensure these human
rights are extended to all Canadians. That no matter what your age or abilities, living in your
community as long as you are able, is your choice.
A fundamental rethink of eldercare is needed. Political promises appear to be fragmented without a comprehensive approach to a supporting older adults. What is needed, a coordinated integrated delivery system with the following components: new capital infrastructure investments with innovative living models; investment in the aged care workforce; person-centred aged care services with greater choice,
control and independence; palliative care and hospice care for seniors; respite and social support
to engage family caregivers; increased use of technology such as digital health; dementia and age
friendly cities; and supportive home care.
If the COVID-19 crisis has not been a rallying cry that reaches every ear, what would it take to
transform societal attitudes on the care of older adults? Elderhood is the anthem. The pandemic
is the sign. Do you hear the people sing?
When you are an elder, you deserve nothing less.
By Dan Levitt
Dan Levitt is executive director of Abbotsford’s Tabor Village elder care community, an
adjunct professor of gerontology at SFU, adjunct professor of nursing at UBC and a sessional
instructor at BCIT.