Census statistics and data are just numbers in the real story of seniors home care in Powell River.
“There’s a media report every few weeks about this aging population and I still haven’t heard a very clear and direct response,” said Powell River resident Claudia Medina, whose mother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease 15 years ago. Dementia followed and symptoms were manageable for the last decade until recently, when difficulties with her mother’s care accelerated, said Medina.
“For the last two years there’s been a marked state of increasing need for my mother in terms of her health care,” said Medina. “At this point, she’s in need of every kind of care. She’s no longer able to walk on her own or have her needs met.”
Medina and her father have committed to making sure her mother can live as comfortably as possible at home.
Increasingly, seniors, their families and government are under stress by the weight of an aging population that now outnumbers children, which places an increasing financial burden on families and government funding.
Strive Living Society, a not-for-profit organization with headquarters in Burnaby, saw the need and recently started providing private care to seniors through its community care program in Powell River. Strive program manager for Powell River Karin Glassford said the service enables seniors to stay in their homes longer, which is what everyone wants.
“From what I’ve seen, and I don’t know everybody’s situation, but I have heard people asking for support,” said Glassford, adding that she receives calls a couple of times per month from people looking for support. Her first step is always to refer them to Powell River General Hospital, where eligibility for free services can be determined.
“If there’s somebody who is eligible for free services, that is where I want them to go first,” said Glassford. “If they’re not eligible and those services aren’t enough, families have purchased services through us privately.”
According to BC seniors advocate Isobel Mackenzie, the provincial government is scaling back the hours provided per client rather than scaling up home support.
“When you look across the board,” said Mackenzie, “numbers are showing that delivery of the service is not matching what the government says it wants to achieve for home care.”
Medina said trying to find out how to help supplement the care her father can provide her mother with home care, because he has limited financial means and has reached a point where he cannot do it all, has been a daunting process.
“I’ve been trying my best.” she said. “If I don’t find help, there are serious problems that can come out of this for both of them.”
Conditions exist for a perfect storm in the care of seniors in Powell River. The growing seniors demographic, including a influx of retirees, puts pressure on a taxed frontline of primary caregivers. Family members are not prepared for the demands of care and funding is not sufficient.
In her search to find home care for her parents, Medina said she discovered two things. One aspect was about being persistent and finding out who is able to help and how it all works. The other was that not enough caregivers are available.
“There are really great people here on the ground, whether they’re working in private care or the public system,” she said. “The frontline people are doing the best they can, but I also discovered there are not enough of them, especially not enough who are managing all of the cases.”
BC Care Providers Society chief executive officer Daniel Fontaine has been on the organization’s province-wide Listening Tour. He said he has been hearing certain themes emerge and one of the biggest regards human resources, particularly in smaller communities, and that there are not enough care aids and clinical staff to meet demand.
“That trend line is going to go into a more acute state,” said Fontaine.
More people are aging and fewer people work in the seniors home-care workforce, according to Fontaine. There must be a way to attract and train younger people who can work in the field, he said. That observation is shared by Mackenzie.
“What’s happening is the caregivers are getting burdened, which is something that is going to break in the future,” said Mackenzie.
Everything in seniors care is at the breaking point, according to experts, and Medina wants to know why the situation has been allowed to become close to critical.
“With the number of seniors we have, the dementia numbers that exist here, and demographics that are shifting toward an aging population,” she said, “why is there no adequate funding to deal with this? This is just going to get worse; it’s not going to go away.”
The province will have $500 million to work with, but how and where that money will be allocated remains to be determined by the newly elected government.
Experts and individuals, such as Medina, who are trying to make sense of the care system, say something must be done now.
“We don’t have anymore time to plan,” said Fontaine. “The time for planning was in the 1990s.”
According to Fontaine, demographers forecasted this rising tide of seniors 20 or 30 years ago.
“We’ve seen this coming,” he said.
However, in many cases, families have not seen it coming and were not prepared, according to Glassford.
“What would happen to my mother if she suddenly became unable to take care for herself in her own home?” said Glassford. “How would we as children care for her? I would imagine most of us are very unprepared for that.”
Medina said she has met people who were not expecting their parents to be having problems and requiring home care so soon.
In her case, Medina said she was persistent in figuring out how to enter into the system. But once in, she said she had to learn how to maneuver through it.
“Through this process, I’ve found that it’s a tricky one to navigate,” said Medina.
Finding her way through the system is not the only hurdle; managing her parents’ fears coincides with it.
“There’s a lot of difficulty if you aren’t persistent,” said Medina. “You need to be on it all the time and trying to figure out who is who and what is available.”
There are complicated circumstances, individual needs, and each case is different, according to Mackenzie.
“Nobody is getting everything,” she said, “and nobody is getting nothing.”