New Brunswick seniors vow to fight possible increase in long-term care fees March 23, 2015

 Cecile Cassista is executive director of the Coalition for Seniors’ and Nursing Home Residents’ Rights.
Photo: Greg Agnew/Times & Transcript
FREDERICTON • The Coalition for Seniors and Nursing Home Residents’ Rights in New Brunswick is vowing to fight any effort by government to make seniors pay more for long-term care.

Cecile Cassista, executive director of the coalition, said on Sunday that seniors are alarmed at a trial balloon floated by the Liberals late last week suggesting that they may introduce a means test to assess the ability of people to pay for nursing and special care homes.

“If the Liberals go down this road, it would be a betrayal of the people who elected them to office,” Cassista said in an interview.

“We will not sit idle if such a regressive move is put in place.”
Victor Boudreau, the minister responsible for the strategic program review, said the government is looking at ways to hold the billion-dollar budget of the Department of Social Development at zero, and one of those ways may involve requiring seniors to pay more for their long-term care, taking into account all assets and not just income.

Boudreau said that, currently, an individual’s financial contribution to long-term care is based on income, “but it doesn’t look at anything else.”
“So you could be very wealthy or be from a middle income family and end up paying the same to get the services,” he said.

“We need to look at that model. We are looking at it very closely as we finalize the budget.”
The provincial budget will be brought down on Tuesday, March 31.

Cassista said she still vividly recalls the day in 2006, early in the mandate of then-premier Shawn Graham and his Liberal government, when the financial assessment model for long-term care was changed so that only a senior’s income and not his or her total assets were factored into the calculation of daily rates.
Cassista said prior to that change, there were horror stories of seniors losing their homes and actually divorcing to try to keep some of the assets built up during a lifetime together.

She said there were tears in her eyes on the day that Graham announced, after a long battle by the seniors coalition, that assets would be protected and the long-term care policy would be changed so that only income is considered when seniors are charged.

“New Brunswick’s seniors have built our province, and the government is committed to treating you with the respect and dignity you deserve,” Graham said when he announced the change.
She said on Sunday that she finds it hard to believe the coalition may have to revive its fight over long-term care costs.

“Government has to quit attacking seniors,” Cassista said. “There are over 55,000 low-income seniors in this province. There is so much to understand around this issue, but just forcing people to pay more out of their own pockets is not the answer.”

She said the government needs to develop a strong home care program, and there are signs the Liberals are working on such a plan.

Boudreau said there are about 650 people on waiting lists for nursing home beds, and about 450 of those people are waiting in hospital beds.

“Generally, New Brunswickers understand and accept that the best option for the family and the cheapest model for government is to keep people in their home,” Boudreau said.

“That is what families want and that is what governments want. Special care homes are more expensive, nursing homes are even more expensive and hospitals are the most expensive. The more we can get people out of hospitals into those various community settings, the better it will be for the families, for the seniors involved and for the government.”