A group of policy researchers is calling on the B.C. government to fund more affordable assisted living units for seniors in a new study shedding light on a decline of publicly subsidized units despite the number of seniors in B.C. growing.
According to The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, B.C. added 105 subsidized units between 2008 and 2017 while privately owned seniors’ homes added 1,130 private pay units in the same time period. Assisted living is a type of supportive housing for people with moderate levels of disability who can direct their own care but need daily personal assistance in order to live independently, such as help getting dressed and bathing or assistance taking medications.
Average annual rents for those private units range from just over $24,000 for an assisted living bachelor suite to more than $36,000 for a one bedroom, plus a myriad of additional fees for extra services and supplies not included in the basic monthly charge, according to report author Andrew Longhurst.
Meanwhile, the median income for a single senior in the province is roughly $27,600.
“Without access to subsidized assisted living, seniors who can’t afford to pay privately may go without care altogether or wait until their health deteriorates to the point of requiring a nursing home or hospitalization,” Longhurst said in a news release Wednesday.
“This situation does not serve seniors or our public health care system well at all.”
When compared to the growing population of seniors aged 75 years and older in B.C., the province saw a 17 per cent drop in the number of subsidized assisted living units between 2008 and 2017.
In 2008, there were 4,393 publicly subsidized units for slightly more than 298,000 seniors in the province, or a rate of 14.7 per 1,000 seniors. But by 2017, according to the report, there were 4,485 units for roughly 367,000 seniors – a rate of 12.2.
Region-by-region, four of the five health authorities saw declines during this time, including Vancouver Coastal Health (25 per cent decline), Fraser Health (19 per cent decline), Vancouver Island Health (17 per cent decline) and Interior Health (11 per cent decline).
Vancouver Coastal Health had the lowest level of access with just 10 units per 1,000 seniors. Meanwhile, Northern Health saw a marginal increase in the number of units, at five per cent.
Longhurst said another key concern is the rise in international companies owning seniors’ care facilities. Currently, the provincial government does not limit how much private operators can charge.
“Allowing assisted living facilities to be treated as financial commodities is at odds with the basic social purpose of providing care to vulnerable seniors,” he said.
“The absence of public capital investments to enable health authorities and non-profits to develop new spaces means very few new publicly subsidized assisted living facilities are being built. The private-pay market has benefited as a result.”
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’s report makes two recommendations to the province: Increase government funding to open more assisted living units and implement detailed, public disclosure of all assisted living units including the cost, ownership and quality of services.
The province is expected to unveil their next budget later this month. Black Press Media has reached out to the health ministry for comment.