(grand)Daddy Daycare

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Every time I go visit my grandparents in Cartwright I experience a mixed bag of emotions. Of course I’m elated that I can visit them, as I always have, in their own home where they’ve (pretty much) always lived. There’s a certain sense of dignity in being able to enjoy the later years of life with the comfort and support of family, and in the greater community. In a departure from my usual ‘complaints’ about my ‘perceived injustices’ (hey c’mon I try to offer a solution to every issue I raise instead of blind muck rakin’!) – I want to again praise the provincial government for increasing support to the Home Support (Home Care Worker) Program by increasing wages.

As I wrote in a previous column, home care workers bring a reprieve not only to elders (and other adults in need of assistance) but also to their families. Furthermore, (for those conservative-minded folk) this program also saves the health care system a boat load of money. The assumption, of course, is that elders (and those adults and children with disabilities) that are in the full care of the system cost taxpayers more. My other assumption is that many people are able to stay at home with a little extra care.

Cost comparison

The average senior in full time care – and there are currently 2,400 across the province – cost the government (in 2010) $150 million. That’s $62,000 per senior in care. This figure completely excludes the cost of building and maintaining the facilities, and it also excludes the cost of doctor care (since most homes are in or near hospitals for the palliative care units especially). This also doesn’t count subsidies for private residence care in the province. Overall there are 10,000 elders in care every year in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Home Support Program, on the other hand, has 5000 participants in the program at a cost (in 2010) of $93 million dollars. Or about $18,600 per person in care. One bonus, as mentioned earlier, is that the people in care get to stay in their own (or a family member’s) home. No capital costs, and considerably more freedom and comfort.

What’s more

The family that is providing the primary care for the disabled or elderly are able to go to work. What a wretched decision it must be to have to choose between your career (or simply your ability to earn your own keep) and your family member that needs attention all day. Particularly relevant in this province is the availability of greater-than-minimum-wage employment. If you have to pay for a home care worker at the same rate as what you earn, what’s the point? I’d personally just go on the dole and care for my family.

The home care worker program allows not one, but two (or three, counting the spouse and home care worker) people to earn a living while maintaining care for their loved one. In a province where most communities have few full time, year round jobs every single earner in each community play a role in helping to keep those communities alive. And it saves the system money – overall.

Now I’m not saying we abolish one for the other

Or anything foolish like that. Many people with disabilities or age-related afflictions have little other option than to be put into institutional care, and I’m happy that it’s available (still waiting on the additional space in Labrador though b’ys). Many families aren’t able to keep up with the increasing needs of their loved ones, while others don’t have family to care for them any longer.

But something very clearly needs to be done. The source of the information above came from here (provincial government). It’s three years out of date – sorry – but it painted a scary picture for me, for my grandparents, and yes maybe even my own father.

1)      Peak oil is over (addressed in my previous column).

2)      Muskrat Falls is going to put a $10 billion or more hole in the budget.

3)      Our population, despite the ‘Ministry of procreations’ efforts, is aging.

Like, fast.

As of 2010 15% of the population of this province was over 65 years old. In seven years people aged 65 and over will make up nearly a quarter of the population. That’s the provincial average – taking in the ‘metropolis areas’. Get out into the outports, villages, and hamlets of this province and I think you’ll see a lot more grey hair than not.

Scary picture. It means less resource revenue, and more and more expensive care to dole out to more and more people who aren’t paying taxes any longer.

So what?

Well, we need to stretch out our care dollars further, unless we throw all the old timers out on the floes like in the olden days. So, for starters, we need to start building more long term care facilities NOW while we still have a little money coming in (had we saved some, say in regional heritage funds – like many have called for – we could have offset these future costs).

So recognizing that not everyone needs to go into a home when they have some minor physical, mental or mobility issue, how can we stretch out the home care worker type program? (remember it’s cheaper and puts more people into the taxpaying workforce) Well, one of my best friends – who also happens to be a nurse in the long term care facility in Goose Bay – was telling me about this elder day care program she knows of in St John’s.

Yeah! Day care for seniors! It’s brilliant, and it’s affordable. I know this isn’t a new thing, it’s well established in other rural jurisdictions, but it’s barely existent in this province. I found a couple in St John’s, and one operated by the Victorian Order of Nurses (VON) in Corner Brook, as well as another in Clarenville, I think. The provincial government even funds this program!

It’s a fantastic way to support a person who needs just a little extra care, in their home community, with people they know every single day. People they grew up with can have assisted daytime events instead of (a) being left home alone, or (b) having a family member choose between work and staying home for care. It’s a truly excellent way to stretch out the home care worker dollars too. Instead of one home care worker per person (or for two spouses perhaps), one home care worker could work with up to five or six people with extra needs. Expanding a program like this would allow more efficient use of our nursing care and home visits from medical professionals too – instead of 15 homes to visit they can get all 15 in one place.

For a region like Labrador (or the South Shore or Northern Pen) where small communities and few services abound, a program like this can have an enormous impact on the quality of everyone’s lives. Often when people need that little extra care, the only place to get it is in a larger centre – away from everything and everyone they know.  Travel ain’t cheap in Labrador (and for Nunatsiavut particularly, driving isn’t an option).

We’re not just talking about dollars and cents, we’re talking about allowing those who have given so much to our society to get a little back – at least for as long as they truly need institutional care. So please, lobby for an increase in this program to provide more space, or use existing community spaces to build upon this dignifying program.

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