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Estimates - Health (28 November 2006)


From Human Services Committee Hansard
28 November 2006

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Department of Health

Mr. Hart: — Thank you, Madam Chair. Minister, I was listening quite closely to your comments, and there was one area that you didn’t cover in your comments, and that’s in the area of long-term care and care for our seniors. And it’s an issue that I have had raised with me on a number of occasions by seniors and families of seniors. And it deals with those seniors who do not require long-term care but yet can no longer live safely in their own homes. And so they have only one option, and that is to go into private personal care homes. And as you know those type of arrangements are fairly costly, particularly for seniors on low income.

And I think probably . . . An email from a Ms. Lukacs of Regina Beach who sent me an email, was very concerned about her parents who live in my constituency, probably sums up this situation very appropriately. And what I would like to do is just quote briefly from her email. She had contacted my office, and there was some issues with one of her parents being in one community in a care facility and her other parent being in another facility, and they were able to work through that, but now the RM [rural municipality], the Balcarres extended care home which is a private personal care home . . . But as she says in her email, her parents are on fixed incomes — low income — and it’s of great concern to her. And I believe her concerns represent the concerns of a number of people in this province whose parents are senior and are faced with these situations.

So what I will do is I’ll just quote some of her comments, and then perhaps we can discuss the issue. She says:

These People who . . . develop and build this country are finding themselves with only pension income and not being able to afford to enter into private care when they can no longer safely be on their own, and yet do not qualify to enter the Long Term subsidized care. My parents fall into this crevice along with many others, they have very limited funds and can not stay long at this establishment even though the charges are very reasonable compared to other care homes. Families are not always in a position to make up the difference, and some I’m sure do not have family.

The point I’m trying to make . . .

She goes on and says:

The point I’m trying to make I imagine is fairly clear. I hope that you can see your way clear to bring this huge problem to the attention of our government and work towards getting subsidization for our seniors so that [their] final years are safe and more comfortable.

Minister, the issue she is raising is — as she said in her memo — is that there are quite a number of seniors who don’t require long-term care in our care homes, but they can no longer live in their homes. And they are in private personal care homes, and they have limited incomes. And the cost of these homes are 1,500 to $2,500 per month. And if seniors do not have many assets, they very quickly use up any savings that they would have.

And I would appreciate your comments on this issue. And do you and your government have any initiatives to help people like Ms. Lukacs’s parents?

Hon. Mr. Taylor: — Thank you very much, Mr. Hart. I appreciate the question. Of course you’re probably aware, as your colleagues are, there’s nothing in the supplementary estimates dealing with long-term care. Supplementary estimates are dealt with in the main estimates, which we dealt with in the spring.

So I’m assuming that . . . Starting out with this line of questioning, we can simply assume that we’ll ignore the terms of reference of the committee tonight, and we will just talk about anything that we want to under Health.

Mr. Hart: — Well, Minister, I mean, it’s been the practice of some of these committees, and I participate in the Economy Committee where there really wasn’t . . . you know, supplementary estimates didn’t deal with this specific topic. But I mean, I’m not asking you questions about agriculture here. We’re talking about Health, and I just felt it to be a valid point to raise at this point in time. But if you’re not prepared to deal with it we can deal with it in another forum.

Hon. Mr. Taylor: — I can deal with it in some general terms, and I am quite prepared to do that.

Just for the benefit of those who are watching the proceedings tonight, I simply want it known that the terms of reference were the supplementary estimates. We have $30 million worth of supplementary estimates coming forward, and the first question from the opposition tonight is something totally unrelated to the terms of reference.

Institutional supportive care is something that this government takes very seriously, and we support quite extensively. We manage a system that supports older people and others who have special care needs in a number of ways. Some of these are related to Health, and some of them are related to other jurisdictions within government. Partly and to some extent the issue that you’re raising is an income issue. It’s not a health issue per se, and it could be a housing issue relating to seniors. We aren’t talking specifically about the delivery of health care to individuals. If we are, our long-term care facilities, level 3 and level 4, are firmly committed to addressing the health care needs of the people who live in those homes as well as taking care of their housing needs.

Saskatchewan has 158 designated special care homes and 21 hospitals in the province supporting 8,663 long-term care patients. This year the main estimates show that Saskatchewan Health is contributing $535.9 million — half a billion dollars — to support long-term care facilities and programs in this province.

In the long-term care envelope, if you divide the number of beds and people being supported by the total dollar value being provided, we are subsidizing each of those long-term care beds to the tune of $52,000 per year. So once you’ve hit that level 3 and level 4 care area, this government has a significant number of resources put to supporting them.

The situation that you are describing indicates that we’ve got some people who in the continuum of care need something a little less than that. It could be a home-based, community-based housing support.

Those people who are managing those private care homes have got additional costs that get no subsidy from government currently. Those homes have mortgages. They have some staff component. They will have local property taxes to pay. They have costs, and they charge those costs out to their residents while providing them with some additional care.

We in Sask Health realize that there’s a gap between the care that’s provided from our home care services to people who are independent and still living in their own home and those who are completely dependent in level 3 and level 4 areas. But it’s not specific to the Department of Health, and therefore we are discussing this issue with the Department of Community Resources who look after income and to a certain extent housing issues for seniors and others who require special care needs.

Mr. Hart: — Well thank you, Minister. Minister, you said that the issue that I raised isn’t directly a Department of Health concern, and you may be right. But, however, when you look the cost to your department once people require level 3 and level 4, you mentioned in your comments that you subsidize at an average of $52,000 per year.

And I think the point that Mrs. Lukacs is trying to raise and other people have raised is that if our seniors who don’t require long-term care can be provided with some assistance to access the care that they do require, in this case private personal care homes, perhaps a number of these people may never need the long-term care which is very costly. We all realize that.

And it would seem to me that if you’re looking at reducing some of the long-term care costs that perhaps it may be a good idea to be somewhat proactive and make it possible for the seniors to — those people who cannot afford private long-term care — to help, give them a bit of a helping hand so that they can access that help. Because if they can’t get into these private long-term care homes they stay in their own homes longer than they should. Certainly we do have home care and those sorts of things, but they don’t look after all their needs and quite often these people then . . . their health deteriorates to the point where they need to go into long-term care.

And I think what Mrs. Lukacs is saying and what I’ve heard from constituents and citizens of this province, is there is that gap that has been identified. And as you indicated, there really isn’t anything within government that is adequately addressing it, and that’s why I thought I would raise this with you this evening to ask that you and your department, working in conjunction with other departments of government, be a bit more proactive in this area and look at helping those seniors who cannot afford to stay in the private personal care homes.

Perhaps we need to look at helping them to a certain level, whatever that may be, something that is reasonable and so that hopefully we can prevent some of those people in needing long-term care and thereby lowering the cost of long-term care in this province. And that is the purpose of my questions tonight.

Hon. Mr. Taylor: — I appreciate the questions. Certainly the issue has been raised with government in other forums. The Department of Health, as I indicated, is currently discussing matters with the Department of Community Resources in a partnership manner. Certainly we realize the longer that people can remain independent in a supportive way, the healthier and happier that they are going to be and they will be outside of the level 3 and level 4 care for longer. Others of course, for various reasons, will find themselves there and we are very specifically in Saskatchewan Health doing our best within the resources available to us to address the health care needs through level 3 and level 4.

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