Serious shortcomings in Office of the Seniors’ Advocate
Inadequate budget for new office
“We need an office that will have the money and the staff to address current needs and look at the future demands of a population which is growing steadily.”
The Office of the Seniors’ Advocate may be established later this spring and while it will promote the interests of our elderly, it won’t have the power to investigate individual complaints.
That was promised in the Liberal party manifesto, “Our Five Point Plan for a Stronger Tomorrow,” unveiled prior to the 2015 election. This is one terrible shortcoming of the Department of Children, Seniors and Social Development. For if the office is to act within the best interests of one of our most vulnerable populations, it should have the budget and the staff to go all out in addressing their interests. If it doesn’t have the power to investigate, it is falling way short of that mark.
It is all very well for department minister Sherry GambinWalsh to acknowledge “there is a gap when it comes to addressing systemic issues” facing seniors. Of course there are gaps, but the real issue rests with the advocate’s power to close them.
Seniors will form 27 per cent of the population within 10 years, according to department figures and Premier Dwight Ball tells us we have “the fastest aging population in the country.” But that population does not want to be condescended to with research, surveys studies and recommendations that lead to nowhere.
Too many so-called specialinterest groups have been on the receiving end of this nonsense when what is needed is the action that will lead to help. And many are badly in need of help.
We presently have nursinghome residents, truly among our most voiceless, receiving shoddy treatment not because of staff negligence but because of staff shortages. Gerry Rogers, NDP critic for seniors, said when long-term care facilities are short-staffed “vulnerable seniors” are sometimes taken from their beds at 4 a.m. or 5 a.m. to be washed and then placed in wheelchairs for the remainder of the day. They can’t be put back in bed because someone may call in sick that morning and the short-staffing begins again. She wants the advocate to have “the legislative powers for visits to residential health-care facilities” in order to look at “staffing levels (and) the level of services.”
Rogers not only wants the advocate to have the power to investigate individual complaints, but also wants him or her to be “pro-active,” to assess how government budgets and social and economic policy affect our elderly.
The budget of 2016 imposed a series of hardships on old-age pensioners receiving the guaranteed income supplement, the most underprivileged, from the cancellation of the adult dental program to those 65 and over to the elimination of government paid over-the-counter medications. This year’s budget has brought no reprieve. According to Rogers, if the advocate’s position is to study and pinpoint gaps that need filling, then complaints shouldn’t have to pour in before he or she acts.
Both Rogers and Steve Kent, PC Opposition critic for health and community services reject a statement from Children, Seniors and Social Development that “seniors’ organizations and seniors” don’t want the advocate’s office to “duplicate existing services or mandates” such as the Office of the Citizens’ Representative by giving that advocate investigative powers.
“I do not believe that’s true,” Rogers said. “The organizations that I have spoken with do want the advocate to have investigative powers, absolutely.”
Kent, commenting on the same statement said, “I doubt that’s the case. The advocate doesn’t have any real teeth. It won’t have the ability to actually do anything, so I don’t think it’s office will improve the lives of seniors in our province.”
The establishment of the Office of the Seniors’ Advocate is a fine gesture coming from a department mandated to address the needs of the elderly, but has, to date, largely ignored them.
That office, if given enough power, can implement an affordable housing program, for lack of affordable shelter is one of the main reasons that our elderly are driven into poverty and kept there, restore medical and dental services that were cut, improve home care and decrease wait times for long-term or personal-care beds.
It can also stop the brutal “first-bed available policy” which Rogers says can place people in nursing homes in areas far away from loved ones. The advocate can also investigate how our seniors are treated in these facilities and stop the brutality of waking them at 4 a.m. to start their day.
But we don’t need fine gestures. We need an office that will have the money and the staff to address current needs and look at the future demands of a population which is growing steadily.
Gerry Rogers is right when she says the $500,000 allocated annually for the operation of this office is inadequate. A skimpy budget and limited power is mere tokenism. Those who have given so much deserve more than patronizing half-measures.