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Columbia Journal logoVolume Nine, Number Three    May 2004    www.columbiajournal.ca

    BC Seniors Set Out to Save Public Health Care

    Marco Procaccini

    In the wake of a mass strike against health care cuts, rollbacks and layoffs, a recent report claiming BC’s current health policies are failing senior citizens, the death of a Kootenay man from his local hospital’s lack of resources and the proposed sell-off of the Medical Services Plan, BC Seniors are setting out to enlist the support of community and public interest organizations to officially endorse the preservation of the universal public health care in Canada.

    The new Friends of Medicare campaign, sponsored by the Council of Senior Citizens’ Organizations of BC, is asking a variety of community organizations and city councils, and labour, environmental and citizens’ groups to formally adopt resolutions against the federal and provincial Liberals’ cuts and in favour of the recommendation of the 2002 Royal Commission on Health Care.

    “The Council of Senior Citizens’ Organizations of BC is convinced that the implementation of the recommendations of the Royal Commission, headed by the Honorable Roy Romanow, is paramount to the protection and enhancement of Medicare,” said COSCO Chair Art Kube in a recent letter to a variety of groups. “For this reason, COSCO has embarked upon a province-wide campaign in support of the implementation of the recommendations contained within the report.”

    That commission’s findings concluded that the main cause of health care woes in the country was years of government funding cuts, especially at the federal level, in the face of increasing need for services from an aging population.

    It found that the federal government, which had originally committed to a 50-50 funding formula with the provinces when the national health care program was introduced, is now only contributing 12 per cent of the funding. Some provinces have responded with huge cuts, user fee increases and privatization measures, which, Romanow found, have been key factors in restricting access to medical and other health-related services, increased wait lists, sanitary concerns and declining service quality.

    It called for the restoration of funding to pre-1995 levels—the year the federal Liberal government, in contrast to its 1993 election promises, began slashing its contributions to Medicare—and the expansion of coverage for home-based and preventative care.

    “We are currently in the process of campaigning against the cuts to health care and the move to privatization of our health care system including home care, extended care, pharmacare, and other areas such as safe affordable housing,” Kube said. “Our organization continues to grow and is the largest federation of senior’s organizations in the province. We continue to respond to the challenges facing seniors and will continue to strive to maintain and improve a better quality of life for all seniors.”

    The campaign comes on the heels of the release of a Simon Fraser University report showing that provincial health policies, especially in the assisted living sector, are failing to provide adequate care for seniors, who the are bulk of the users of the program.

    Despite election promises to the contrary, the Liberal government has been moving seniors out of public or community-based long term care facilities, which are being downsized or closed, and into what are often privatized assisted living programs. This move has resulted innumerous displacements, including the separation of numerous couples and family members, as seniors are being forced to take up residence where the government tells them.

    But SFU gerontology researcher Charmaine Spencer, who led the study, says the problem is further complicated by the fact there is no public system in place to effectively monitor the program or deal with complaints.

    “These (assisted living) facilities are being taken over by large corporations that are often more concerned about profit than delivering quality care,” she said. “Assisted living doesn’t have the same rules as long term care facilities, so the company determines the rules and seniors are forced to live by them.”

    Liberal Health Minister Colin Hansen has promised to set up a monitoring system in the form of an Assisted Living Registrar, although this may not happen until the end of the year. “This new registrar will ensure that high standards are maintained and residents get the quality service they deserve,” he said in a recent press conference.

    But seniors’ activists are angry that this new agency will not be performing spot inspections on these privatized facilities, to which public health facilities are subject. Rather, it will only respond to officially filed complaints.

    COSCO says its findings show that large numbers of seniors are often afraid to complain fearing retaliation from management in the facilities in which they live—something which has reportedly happened on numerous occasions.

    But Hansen says he’s not convinced spot checks are effective either. Instead he insists the new registrar will be able to respond to complaints in a quick manner, adding that complaints can be filed confidentially.

    COSCO is also supporting a province-wide petition to stop the Liberal government’s recently announced plan to sell off the administration of the provincial Medical Services Plan. Kube says this is yet another broken Liberal election promise, and that the privatization experience in Alberta has demonstrated no long term cost savings to the public and has compromised patient privacy and reduced accountability to the public.

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