Senior care from home should be priority: coalition Allison Toogood ALLISON TOOGOOD Times & Transcript November23, 2013

Jennie LeBreton loved her husband Gérard dearly but in the last few ailing years of his life, the stress of a lacking senior care system took its toll on them, both physically and mentally. LeBreton, 75, said New Brunswick’s aging population and the people who work to care for them are in a crisis She attended Friday’s annual general meeting of the Coalition for Seniors and Nursing Home Residents’ Rights at Camden Park Terrace, her home, to pass on to the group’s executive her story and her concern over a societal problem that is worsening before her eyes.

 “There’s a lack of enough staff, enough properly trained staff, but above all else, a caring staff that are getting wages they can live on,” she said. “These things need to be looked at very seriously because when you have a person at home requiring that much care, their illness creating so much stress, you end up with two people on their backs, not just one.”

 The coalition, set to celebrate 10 years as a non-profit working to ensure New Brunswick seniors enjoy a happy and healthy retirement, reaffirmed its position on essential actions and policy changes the government must do to address major gaps that negatively affect seniors. Their document, Pillars for Change: Aging in Place, first released in 2012, focuses on four recommendations the premier and the Department of Social Development need to seriously consider.

 The coalition seeks the incorporation of home support workers under the umbrella of the regional health authorities; a Long-Term Care Act that would house all policies affecting seniors; the Office of the Ombudsman be provided with sufficient resources to be responsible for the oversight of long-term care facilities; and a requirement for the 430 privately operated special care homes to hire at least one full-time registered nurse and that a licensed practical nurse be on duty when the RN is not.

Past president Debbie Ellison and the coalition’s executive director, Cécile Cassista, told the board of directors and representatives of partner organizations, associations and unions that in 2014, an election year in New Brunswick, they will continue to call for immediate action to support the aging population, allowing them to live in their homes and communities, not in hospitals.

 “These four items are crucial,” Cassista said. There are more than 700 seniors on the nursing and special care home wait list and 453 are in acute care hospital beds, of which the system can no longer sustain. Many of those seniors would like to return home to be cared for, Ellison said. Cassista and the coalition maintains that the New Brunswick government must deliver a better program by example of best practices already established in other jurisdictions and the studies and strategies that take months to a year to complete must stop. Before any changes happen, LeBreton, a retired home care worker, said the provincial and federal governments will have to “wake up” and stop cutting funds to health care.

She said they are forgetting about the large mass of the population who have worked hard all their lives and contributed to Canada’s growth — people like her late husband, Gerry, a veteran and civil engineering instructor at NBCC who died in the spring.

 “For those seniors who can’t speak for themselves or have no family to speak for them, God help them,” she said. “And so many of these home workers and nurses are now having to take stress leave…I wonder why?” LeBreton, who’s been in and out of hospital for several medical problems herself over the past few years, said her husband, who suffered from Parkinson’s, was able to afford home care several hours a week from a few “sweet and caring” women.

But as the disease progressed, as did emotional turmoil and stress, she said there was no support when she came to the realization she could no longer care for him. “I love this man and he is a good person and he certainly paid his dues,” she said. “But as time went on, there was one time where he had to go into the hospital and when it came time for him to be discharged, I refused.” She said she was harassed by the medical staff and their social workers, especially, who told her if she would look into it, there were plenty of open beds in special care facilities. She said she knew better. LeBreton worked in the system and said she knows what goes on.

“There’s so much turnover and the wages these care workers are being paid don’t always attract the ones who truly care and who should be caring for seniors.” Mary Schryer, the province’s former Minister of Health, for the now defunct State for Seniors and of Social Development, addressed the coalition and its partners Friday.

She said her father, who died in 2009, wanted to live out the rest of his life from home in Ontario and he did just that. Schryer hopes New Brunswickers will be able to look forward to the same outcome as her father. But in 2014, the current federal health care accord – the deal that sets funding and health care service delivery agreements between the federal and provincial and territorial governments – expires and must be renegotiated.

The government has announced a proposed reform of $36 billion worth of health care cuts, including about $715 million in New Brunswick, which will come into effect after the next federal election in 2015. “This is money used for home care, long-term care and other health care services,” she said. “I think it’s important that we need to implement recommendations under the long-term care strategy.” Cassista will share the coalition’s work and position during a national conference for seniors’ health care next month in Ottawa.