Seniors advocate: Lack of housing options led to northern seniors entering residential care too early

On Apr. 19, Isobel Mackenzie discussed senior concerns and shared report findings by her office during a public meeting at Riverside Place.

B.C. Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie discussed concerns and report findings on April 19 at Riverside Place.

B.C. Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie discussed concerns and report findings on April 19 at Riverside Place.

Seniors in northern B.C. are going into residential care earlier than necessary due to lack of appropriate housing, says B.C.’s seniors advocate.

On Apr. 19, Isobel Mackenzie discussed senior concerns and shared report findings by her office during a public meeting at Riverside Place.

Mackenzie said that in the Northern Health authority’s region, some seniors are going directly from no services to residential care due to the current housing situation, while missing middle steps such as assisted living.

She is in talks with the government for a housing strategy needed for rural B.C.

“With more and more jobs going to rural communities, there would be a need for more attention to rural B.C.,” she said.

In the Lower Mainland, private companies have stepped in to provide housing, but the same did not happen in rural B.C. due to the lack of profit, Mackenzie added.

While 50 per cent of seniors in all of B.C. are found to be in residential care, there are less in the north due to lower availability — Northern Health has the longest wait lists in the province, she said.

Home support programs are also not as robust compared to southern communities, where residences are more concentrated and contracted caregivers are more readily available for hire.

An audience member, turning 87 this year, expressed that her concerns lie in health care costs such as the removal of cataracts, dental care, and hearing aids.

Another attendee recounted that her parents were separated after 60 years because they required different levels of care, and thus couldn’t live together anymore.

For Sarrah Storey, coordinator of senior service program Better At Home in Fraser Lake, rural communities incur higher costs, associated with transportation and attracting contractors, to provide the same services as larger centres.

Funding allocators may not understand the situation, as they calculate based on the smaller population that is served, Storey said.

Assisted living is in the works for Fraser Lake, though the starting proposal involves too little spots, she added.

Mayor Gerry Thiessen, who attended the session with Councillor John Murphy, echoed the concern in housing, particularly in Vanderhoof.

“We have a crisis, and we’re working with Northern Health doctors and community services [to address the situation,]” Thiessen said, adding that Vanderhoof has a shortage of care support workers to allow seniors to live at home longer.


Other highlights presented:

– In B.C., while eight percent of seniors is diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder, thirty-three per cent of all seniors are taking anti-psychotic medication. “People are trying to help others with episodes of agitation, but they may become more confused with medication,” Mackenzie said.

– Ninety-seven per cent of seniors passed the Driver’s Medical Examination Report

– Statistically, most seniors don’t get dementia. “It’s important for seniors to remember that we all forget things, but people lose their confidence,” Mackenzie said. “People think they are losing their mind when they are not.”


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