About 15 seniors picketed the office of Nelson-Creston MLA Michelle Mungall on Tuesday in an attempt to secure more funding for home care in Nelson — funding they say was promised by the B.C. Liberal government but not delivered.
“If you’re elderly and alone, getting to appointments and back, getting medicine, going to the hospital, it’s nearly impossible,” said David Cunningham, who collected signatures for a petition on Baker Street.
“If you’re in that situation, you really need this kind of care to be able to live your life.”
The demonstration was organized by the Nelson Seniors Co-ordinating Society.
Mungall was in Victoria, and her Nelson staff locked the office doors but came outside to offer the demonstrators cookies and reassure them that they were happy to see them exercising their democratic rights.
Nevertheless, protesters said they felt they were being ignored.
“We’re just not getting any help for people at home,” said Sarah Popoff, a member of the society.
“I’m 78, so I may need it tomorrow,” she said. “They promised us funding and we haven’t got anywhere with it. So we thought if we did this quietly nothing would really happen.”
Mungall told the Star she was perplexed by the demonstration.
She said she and her representatives have repeatedly attempted to have a dialogue with the society, but that they have refused her offer to help them.
“My office has been working with the organization and with the chair who put this demonstration together,” said Mungall. “We answered all of their questions. We also set up a meeting with them. We offered to help with any of their applications for funding.”
Mungall said that at a meeting on Nov. 8 her staff offered to help the society meet with the provincial standing committee on finance, which is working on the budget to be presented in the spring, but she said the chair of the society, Pegasis McGauley, refused.
McGauley said that during the meeting the society discovered the deadline for such a presentation had passed.
The society was incorporated 15 years ago in order to confront a drop in funding on the part of the provincial government for home care. The society’s mandate has always been directed at providing home care services for the elderly, because they feel that Interior Health Authority is not doing enough.
The IHA and the society provide two distinct types of home care to Nelson area seniors.
IHA provides medical services and bathing, but no other services, to about 114 clients. The co-ordinating society does not provide medical care but does supply meal preparation, grocery shopping, laundry, house cleaning and other personal services.
Since 2012 this non-medical home care has been provided to 60 communities across B.C., funded by the United Way’s Better at Home program, to which the provincial government makes a substantial contribution. But Nelson wasn’t selected to be one of the 60 communities who receive funding.
Three years after the launch of Better at Home, the B.C. Liberals said the program would be expanded to serve Nelson seniors in 2017, according to McGauley.
Based on that information, in January, 2015, the society successfully applied for a grant from the Columbia Basin Trust to fund a Home Help Co-ordinator for two years in order to prepare for the transition to the funding provided by the United Way. They hired the co-ordinator, but the B.C. Liberals never expanded the program, McGauley said.
The Home Help Co-ordinator currently oversees the care of 52 residents living between Beasley and Balfour, the majority of whom pay subsidized fees ranging from $10 to $22 per hour, based on their net taxable income.
However, the CBT funding for that position will run out on December 31, and it is not renewable.
Anticipating that deadline, McGauley says the society began to reach out to Mungall last March in order to seek the funding for the program expansion they were promised in 2015. Members of Mungall’s staff directed them to contact the Ministry of Health, which they did at the end of July.
McGauley said in September they received a response that there were no immediate plans to provide more funds to United Way to support home care.
McGauley said the group picketed Mungall’s office Tuesday to bring attention to this funding issue.
Mungall said funding depends on the government’s spring budget, which is in the planning stages now.
“I cannot simply pre-empt that budget discussion and cut them a cheque,” she said.