Seniors Housing in B.C.: Affordable, Appropriate, Available is a new report launched May 21, 2015 by the Office of the Seniors Advocate. This document makes progressive and bold recommendations that will enable better care for seniors and should be reviewed, discussed and acted upon by all B.C. nurses.
I was pleased to join Julie Fraser, President of ARNBC, and Patrick Chiu, RN/MPH Student and ARNBC Intern, at the release of this transformative report. There was a lot of energy in the room, which was packed with engaged and active seniors, advocates and stakeholders.
The report outlines the housing issues faced by B.C’s seniors living across the continuum from independent housing, to assisted living and to residential care, and finds that seniors’ housing must be more affordable, appropriate and available.
B.C. has the fastest growing rate of seniors in Canada. Although 93% of B.C.’s seniors live independently, 50% live on an income of $24,000 per year or less. According to this report, this is not adequate to maintain independent living conditions.
Over the course of the last year, the Seniors Advocate, Isobel Mackenzie, travelled across the province and met with thousands of seniors and their families. At each consultation she attended, housing and housing expenses were listed among seniors’ top concerns.
In her report, the Seniors Advocate urges the B.C. government to implement 18 recommendations to improve the health outcomes for low income seniors. We were impressed by the boldness of some of these recommendations, and hope nurses will take this opportunity to provide comments and feedback on this important report.
Seniors Housing in B.C.: Affordable, Appropriate, Available recommends that the B.C. government help low income seniors live in their homes longer by offering a government-backed line of credit, called a Homeowner Expense Deferral Account, which would allow low-income seniors to defer paying for utilities, home insurance and repairs until after their home is sold. This would help seniors live independently, and prevent them from paying housing expenses instead of healthcare needs, such as medications, dental care, hearing aids and medical supplies. Once their home is sold, the B.C. government would recoup its money, along with a low-interest charge. There is precedent for such a program in B.C.; seniors are able to defer their property tax payments under B.C.’s Property Tax Deferment program. The Office of the Seniors Advocate crunched the numbers and a homeowner deferral program is sustainable - most seniors would still have equity in their homes after 20 years.
The Seniors Advocate also recommends that the Registered Assisted Living program be redesigned to support more flexibility in the services offered, allowing more seniors to live independently for as long as possible. Ms. Mackenzie estimates that up to 15% of seniors in residential care could still be living at home with extra assisted living.
The other recommendation that caught my attention is that the B.C government commits to ensuring that by 2025, 95% of all residential care beds in the province will be single rooms equipped with ensuite bathrooms. A private bedroom and bathroom is enormously important to seniors, who view this as preserving privacy and dignity, at a very vulnerable time in their lives.
Please feel free to access the report, read the recommendations and let us know what you think by posting your comments.
Nursing knows the impacts that the social determinants of health have on the health of seniors and is pleased to see that the Seniors Advocate puts housing at the top of the list.
At ARNBC, we look forward to working with nurses and other stakeholders to improve seniors’ health and health care for seniors. As the Director of Nursing and Health Policy, I am committed to advancing policies that will improve seniors health, and would like to hear from nurses who have interest, expertise, or innovative ideas in this area. As the Seniors Advocate stated, these recommendations can only come to life, if we all make our voices heard.
ABOUT KATHRYN SEELY
Kathryn is a former nurse and lawyer who has spent the past decade working in the area of public policy and advocacy. Kathryn believes that effecting policy change is one of the best tools we can use to improve health outcomes and looks forward to working collaboratively with stakeholders to help develop nursing and heath policy in B.C to advance the health outcomes of British Columbians. Kathryn is ARNBC's Director of Health and Nursing Policy.