Liberals offered an earful at seniors policy forum

The Liberal Party of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Official Opposition caucus held a two hour public forum in Mount Pearl last week to discuss health care and housing for seniors.

The aim was held to get input from citizens as to what can be done to resolve some of the issues facing seniors. The meeting, hosted by Mount Pearl South MHA Paul Lane, was part of the Liberals’ ‘Let Connect’ series of forums aimed at developing social policy ahead of the provincial election expected this fall.

The night began with Lane stating they are looking to form policy, but it is “far from being complete.” With the input of the public, the Liberals say they will have a better understanding of how to move forward and provide a better government. 

One man, Bob Corbett, seemed to strongly disagree that the Liberals would do much to improve the situation of seniors, and had a few choice words for the attending MHAs. He argued the Liberal Party will be no different than the PCs, and that they will follow in their footsteps and spend like “drunken sailors” if they are elected.

Corbett is the Vice President of the Newfoundland and Labrador Public Sector Pensioners Association as well as a former deputy fire chief with the City of St. John’s. He is also Vice President of the Seniors Coalition, an organization, he pointed out, that is not funded by any government program or influenced by any political party, allowing him to “tell it like it is.” Corbett said both Nova Scotia and New Brunswick have succeeded in appointing a Seniors Advocate whom the government consults before making decisions that affect seniors. Corbett said it’s time this province made the same move. 

Andrew Parsons, MHA for Burgeo-La Poile, promise to bring in a Seniors Advocate, making it “an independent office in the House of Assembly for a person that will represent seniors…independent of politicians.”

Parsons noted that when this idea was recently put to a vote in the House, every PC member voted against it while the Liberal and NDP members voted in favor.

Parsons went a step further, promising the Liberals will place an Independent Appointments Commission in charge of selecting the right people for the advocate’s position, which would allow the person in charge to be outside of any political influence.

Lane suggested the office should have multi-year funding so the advocate won’t be afraid to speak out on issues for fear of losing funds for the program. 

Ralph Morris, past president and current representative of the Public Sector Pensioners Association, addressed home care and the long-term care of seniors as well as the income they are receiving now being affected by “clawbacks” in their pensions. Most seniors are only living on GIS and OAS payments, which are not enough to keep up with the cost of living, especially when it comes to homecare in this province, Morris said.

Some seniors are unable to support themselves when a spouse passes away, he added, because they have half the income but the full cost of bills. They are no longer able to afford proper food and medication for themselves, leading to hospitalization and then long-term care where they are stripped of their ability to take care of themselves, he argued. This costs more than it does to keep seniors living in their homes, he pointed out.

“People want to age at home,” said Morris.

Other issues raised during the forum included the loss of disability pensions at age 65 and ‘divorces of convenience,’ which sees some husbands and wives forced to divorce their spouses who are in long-term care so that they are able to keep enough pension money to live at home. Morris said such situations leaves many seniors in poverty, and unless these issues are addressed by the Liberal party before the election, he is advising seniors to refuse to vote for them.

Many people in the crowd presented ideas for the Liberals to consider, such as getting youth involved early so they know what they are expecting as they move into the seniors bracket, and creating a Seniors tax credit for impoverished seniors much like the child tax credit which helps families raise children under the age of 18.

Tracy Moore, a social worker at the Waterford Hospital, suggested there needs to be “dementia care bungalows” or Protective Community Residences created within the limits of St. John’s, Mount Pearl and the surrounding area. Such homes would provide a unique opportunity for people suffering from mild to advanced dementia than they would get from regular residential care, she said.

The facilities would promote independence and quality of life for individuals and their families, said Moore, noting they could be designed as a home-like setting, featuring a private bedroom with access to walking paths. This would provide privacy and comfort as an alternate option to living in a traditional long-term care facility. Residents could wander as they please, she added, and be allowed to use what skills they still possess to take care of themselves if possible.

Eastern Health already has two facilities in Clarenville and Bonavista which Moore suggests are working very well so far. Such an option would allow for traditional long-term care facilities to have only residents who need extreme medical care and attention, while allowing those with dementia to be able to keep some of their freedom as long as they can.

There was little to no response from the Liberal caucus members to these suggestions, but all ideas were written down to be reviewed.

The meeting concluded with Mayor Randy Simms, who is working in the Liberal Opposition Office as a policy advisor, receiving a question about housing for seniors in Mount Pearl. Simms said the city plans to give a piece of land to Newfoundland Housing to make affordable housing “exclusively in the market for seniors” very soon.

Seniors form one of the largest voting blocks in this province, composing one sixth of the population and forecast to make up one quarter of the population within 10 years’ time.

Parsons light-heartedly stated during the meeting that “we ignore you at our peril.”

Posted on May 20, 2015 .