FIGHTING FOR THE RIGHTS OF NURSING HOME RESIDENTS'

Do I need to say you how appreciative I am to be invited by a group of people with whom I share a same background: teachers by profession and now retired and rather busy. I have attended all of your annual meetings for the four years I was provincial president of la SERFNB – the NB Society of Francophone Retired Teachers.

I got to meet many of you and have made friends with some. Duncan McGeachy, for instance, rarely comes to Moncton without giving me a call. That is highly appreciated.

I got to know your actual president through meetings of the SERFNB-NBSRT Liaison Committee. I want to salute Debbie Ellison, your representative on our Board. I am grateful for this opportunity to share a few thoughts on the Coalition for Seniors’ and Nursing Homes Residents’ rights.

Why a coalition? Well, for as many years as can be remembered, there was no provincial organization, not even seniors’ organizations, opposing the government on its policies relating to nursing homes and the costs to its residents.

Such a vacuum authorized one government after the other to impose its will and take advantage to the utmost of those having to live in nursing homes. Not only were residents exploited unscrupulously, their partners and their families were also.

In the face of such circumstances, seniors and their families felt helpless. Under the leadership of Esmonde Barry from Saint John, a group of four women got together to join forces.

They eventually invited seniors groups, church groups, unions, retired teachers of which you are, veterans, legions, and the like to do the same. There are now more than fifty member organizations who believe seniors must be protected especially those entering such a vulnerable state.

You will remember the times when all assets (savings, RRSP’s, pensions, second dwellings, boats, life insurances) were included in the calculation of costs when entering a nursing home. Not only did the government get at the throat of residents, it went after the partner’s income to the extent that some became poor overnight.

All done in an atmosphere of fear and humiliation. As if families with such sad but inevitable circumstances needed civil servants to spy on bank accounts and all other sources of income.

The Coalition made this its first battle. It demanded that assets other than income not be included in the calculation of cost for Nursing Home residents.

Needless to say that the Coalition was not welcomed in government circles nor in departmental offices. Ministers completely refused to meet with its representatives. It suggested instead that the Coalition go through the New Brunswick Seniors’ Federation as if it were a part of government.

The government of the time shunned the two main recommendations in the 2003-2004 report of the NB Ombudsman relating to Nursing Homes.

It stated (1) that the calculation of family contribution for nursing home services to residents be based on income only; and

(2) that the cost of health care services to nursing home residents be the responsibility of the provincial government.

Quite surprisingly, the two groups we could have expected to have taken sides with the Ombudsman, opposed the recommendations. The Seniors’ Federation said that the province could not afford such an action, and the President of the Seniors’ Council for New Brunswick, Sister Anne Robichaud, sided with the government who appointed her at every possible occasion.

She refused to work with anyone who dared to have a different view from hers. Need I say that I was one of many. She called off a meeting with the SERFNB, the Acadian Association for Seniors and the Third Age Centers which had dared to question her stands.

At one time, it cost between 49,000$ and 73,000$ a year to live in a Nursing Home. At this rate one could have gone to live at the Algonquin Hotel. With the advent of the present government the cost went down to 29,000$. The two recommendations of the Ombudsman were adopted so as to leave out all assets other than income when calculating costs.

In its last budget, a government which lacks funds to operate its present programs, found ways of distributing 145 million dollars. To do so, it had to cut services of which education was one, and find ways of getting revenues otherwise.

It targeted seniors among others. They were charged 5,000$ more a year to live in a Nursing Home. That represents an 18% hike. It reinstated ambulance fees and gave its heating aid program to the Salvation Army.

This flow of money towards Nursing Homes don’t account for better services. We have not witnessed the presence of new staff. There is not more activity to uplift the minds and souls of residents. And we hear, more often than we should, horror stories about some residents such as seniors being kept in soiled diapers for hours on end because of lack of staff. And we pretend as a society to believe in such great principles as living and growing old in respect and dignity.

A study from a Canadian university has shown that there is more violence in Nursing Homes in Canada than in the Nordic countries of Europe. Here frustration among residents is rampant whereas it is at a much lower degree in the Nordic countries.

In Canada, there is less staff to tend after residents. Employees have no time to give proper care whether it be a kind word or looking after basic needs.

Some of these institutions are nothing more than warehouses or old peoples’ homes. In French, we say « mouroir ». In the word « mouroir », there is the verb « mourir », which means to die. A waiting place for death to come. Let’s hope this is not what we mean by living in respect and dignity?

Mind you in the northern countries of Europe, citizens pay much higher taxes than we do and do not seem to complain too much because the services they get in return are of high quality. Americans pay the least taxes in the world and are not any happier because of it expecting quality service without having to pay.

Sometimes, I wonder if Canadians are not getting to be as greedy and individualistic as our southern neighbors? Expecting the best without paying.

The Coalition acts as a watch dog as it should because the opponent is huge. It is an advocating body which expects that, as seniors grow older and less autonomous, their rights are respected especially when they have arrived at such a vulnerable stage in their lives. Their partners and families need to feel that there is someone out there talking on their behalf and caring for everyone concerned.

They need to feel that someone advocates for their loved ones as they enter the last phase of their lives.

Your association is part of the Coalition, and I want to thank the NBSRT for supporting such a worthy cause. I want to thank your group for having a representative on the Board and for any donation it deems fit to make to help with its operation.
Hector J. Cormier
Coalition President