Multifaceted seniors care was a hot topic when Wetaskiwin-Camrose MLA Bruce Hinkley attended the Wetaskiwin County council meeting on Sept. 1.
Many of council’s concerns revolve around seniors’ services, homes, transportation and extended care.
Hinkley says the provincial government has chosen not to cut back platform promises to ensure funding for rural programs continues, including seniors’ housing.
Reeve Kathy Rooyakkers is concerned with seniors’ access to transportation for medical care. Through FCSS there is funding available for seniors’ recreational outings to cities and council is wondering why, if the funding is already there, medical trips are not an eligible use.
“Transportation is a big issue . . . it’s on our radar,” said Hinkley.
He relayed to council, Minister of Alberta Health Sarah Hoffman says assistance for medical trips greater than 100 kilometers in a round trip is provided through the Special Needs Assistance for Seniors program.
Rooyakkers also wanted to know when seniors’ housing and extended care would be addressed. Council questioned if they would be on the Government of Alberta’s radar, as lodge funding has not kept stride with inflation.
Hinkley told council Hoffman says additional funding has been identified and October’s provincial budget will target the issue. “The answer that I have back for you from Minister Hoffman is that additional funding to address increased capital maintenance and operational costs has been identified.”
The Wetaskiwin and Area Lodge Business Authority business plan is under review and it is being determined what capital needs that will be met, says Hinkley.
“Housing Alberta Seniors has provided $3,000 per lodge and that is going through the Local Lodge Improvement initiative,” said Hinkley.
Council was informed $114,000 has been set aside for the Winfield Lodge and $237,000 for the Peace Hills Lodge in Wetaskiwin.
“Now Bethany Homes . . . for 2015 is setting aside, for Peace Hills, $345,000 and there’s $145,000 for the West Pine Lodge as well,” said Hinkley. “So it sounds like there is money that’s already been set aside.”
At this, Rooyakkers informed Hinkley much of the money going to Winfield is for a sprinkler system, which the lodge lacks. “Many of the old lodges don’t have them and they had to upgrade.”
“That was promised prior, for the sprinkler system, and also for a bit of modernization for the kitchen,” Coun. Garry Dearing added.
In reply, Hinkley said the ministry has also approved $3.8 million to rejuvenate the lodge under the Lodge Renewal initiative.
Rooyakkers says council is less concerned about one-shot capital funds and more concerned about long term operating costs.
She says money coming from the government to subsidize costs has continually been cut back. “And we can’t charge more to the people that live in there, it’s a set amount.”
“We’re falling behind on the operating deficit,” Dearing added.
Hinkley says capital maintenance and operating costs have been “identified.” “We hope to have that in the budget this fall.”
Dearing says one-size-fits-all funding methods do not work when it comes to rural communities and smaller lodges because the communities do not have the economy to support everything not being provincially funded.
“I couldn’t agree with you more,” said Hinkley. “The taxes should not be downloaded to the counties.”
The state of extended care was another concern of council. “I’m hoping that this government will look at something whey they’re renovating some of these, especially smaller lodges or anything like that, that they start looking at putting wings of extended care in there,” said Rooyakkers.
Council is displeased when married couples who have been together for decades end up living in different centres. “Whereas if we had long term care within those wings it would be more efficient,” said Rooyakkers.
Hinkley says this is not the first time he has heard this concern. “People who have been married 40, 50, 60 plus year’s and now are really questioning how their dignity and respect is being treated in the final year’s of their life.”
He says it is inhumane to have couples spend their lives together and then split them up to live in different homes. “Economically it may be better to separate those people but for gross domestic happiness that is the worst choice.”
“It may end up costing us more to keep that couple together but in respecting individual and couples that’s the route we have to go,” he added.