Coalition discusses seniors’ issues BY TESS ALLEN TIMES & TRANSCRIPT STAFF 29 May 2012 08:48PM

The Coalition for Seniors and Nursing Home Residents’ Rights board hosted a strategic planning session Tuesday to discuss the chief issues facing New Brunswick seniors as well as potential action plans.
Executive director Cécile Cassista underscored a number of critical issues currently challenging New Brunswick seniors at Tuesday’s event, the chief of which involved concerns that the New Brunswick government will reinstate the utilization of assets for the purpose of nursing home care.

At the coalition’s foundation in 2004, its primary goal was to lobby to have the assets removed from the calculation of nursing care costs. In October 2006, the Liberal government of the day eliminated the calculation of assets. Now, the coalition is concerned that the new provincial government will reinstate this policy.
“(The government) would take into account your bank account, all your life savings, your home and car, and they would couple all that together,” said Cassista.
“In some cases, pre-2006, some people were paying $5,000 to $6,000 per month for nursing care facilities. It created a huge devastation in New Brunswick; people were declaring bankruptcy, divorcing each other, and giving their homes away to their children.”
With nursing home care fees recently rising by 20 per cent, members of the coalition are starting to get concerned that this is a sign that the government is leaning toward reinstating assets in the calculation of nursing home fees.
“There are a lot of concerns about the government going back to that and we need to get a clear direction from them on what they plan on doing. We have nursing home fees and special care home fees going up; are they heading in that direction?” said Cassista.

She added that the asset issue is one that is constantly revisited.
“It’s only a policy and it can be changed without us knowing. What we want is for the government to not include the value of your home as part of an asset. We want affordable fees just like other provinces.”
Cassista also expressed concern for the poor communication to seniors about the hike in nursing home care fees.
“There are about 800 seniors who pay out of their own pockets. They have never received any notification from the department that the hike would be effective in July.”
Another chief topic discussed at Tuesday’s meeting was the recent increase in prescription drug costs, and how this might affect low-income seniors.

Cassista was shocked earlier this year when the annual co-payment ceiling for seniors covered by the drug program doubled from $250 to $500 per calendar year. Health Minister Madeleine Dubé said the former drug program cost $188 million and was not sustainable. She said the change would save the province $3 million annually.

“The drug program really has been a hardship for our seniors. $500 for a person to put out for their medication is a lot of money when you’re on fixed income. We’re waiting for the government to get back to us and they haven’t gotten back to us, so we’re going to do a follow-up,” said Cassista.
The board also discussed the current issue of seniors on waiting lists to receive home nursing care. She said this issue is in a state of urgency.
“We have over 700 people on the wait list right now, waiting for nursing care. People want to live at home, that’s where they want to be,” she said.
“If New Brunswick had a comprehensive home care program, people could be able to live at home longer. It could be in their apartment or living with other seniors as opposed to living in institutions. It would be a different kind of living arrangement; the environment would be so different.”

The coalition has plans to follow up with the provincial government on a number of key issues discussed at Tuesday’s meeting. 

“From here today, we basically will be in touch with the minister’s office and the premier’s office to let them know that we’ve had a meeting. We have a plan and we’d like to share it with them,” she said.
Cassista said the government seems to have turned a blind eye to New Brunswick seniors, and should instead focus their money on important causes instead of increasing nursing home fees. 

“Taxpayers’ money should be put into other sources instead of increasing nursing home fees. We’re not breaking the bank; it seems the government of the day has money for other sources, but they’re attacking our seniors constantly,” she said. 

“We’re not forgetting about our seniors. We know that our population is aging, the numbers are high and they’re living longer, as well. We need to make sure they’re taken care of.”