Se­ri­ous short­com­ings in Of­fice of the Se­niors’ Ad­vo­cate

In­ad­e­quate bud­get for new of­fice

The Compass - - Editorial - Pat Cullen So­cial Af­fairs Pat Cullen is a jour­nal­ist who lives in Car­bon­ear. She can be reached at 596-1505 or cullen.pat1@gmail.com.

“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.

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