Increases in the cost of seniors accommodation, announced this week by the provincial government, isn’t needed and will hurt those who can least afford it, say officials who deal with seniors.
Starting Jan. 1, long-term care facilities can charge seniors up to $1,785 per month for long-term care accommodation, marking a five-per-cent increase, or roughly $80 per month.
“This increase in the regulated maximum accommodation charge carefully balances the need for operators to address rising costs, while ensuring that the charges paid by residents are reasonable,” said Health Minister Fred Horne.
Gary Pool, Morinville representative and president of the Alberta Council on Aging, said he doesn’t disagree with the increase, but noted it will put a “squeeze” on seniors who don’t qualify for financial assistance.
“The people that get hurt are actually the people that are just above the Alberta Seniors Benefit line,” he said. “They’re getting squeezed with this because they’re going to have to pay more and their income is already pretty small.”
Noel Somerville, chair of Public Interest Alberta’s senior’s task force, said the increase isn’t necessary.
“I think the benefit is to the operators of the facilities, not to the resident and I think it’s very unfair to be putting this on the most vulnerable citizens in society,” he said. “We’re talking the frailest and sickest people we have.”
Somerville said the province needs more publicly owned and operated facilities with more long-term care beds.
“It would not only be lessened for seniors, it would be a huge improvement for all Albertans,” he said, adding it would free up acute-care beds in hospitals.
Seniors in long-term care facilities are responsible for paying fees associated with room and board while the provincial government covers the cost of nursing through Alberta Health Services.
The provincial government is boosting Alberta Seniors Benefit and Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped payments for eligible recipients to offset the rising cost.
Pool said he would have rather seen the government increase the threshold to qualify for the Alberta Seniors Benefit rather than simply offsetting the cost.
Generally, single seniors making less than $25,100 and couples making less than $40,800 annually qualify for the benefit, according to the Alberta government’s website.
More than half of Alberta seniors in long-term care facilities – 8,300 of 14,500 – meet this threshold, costing the government $14.4 million annually.
Pool said he believes a large number of seniors hover just above this threshold.
The disposable income for seniors receiving provincial assistance will remain unchanged at $265 per month, which puts the province third highest in the country behind British Columbia and Manitoba.
Alberta’s maximum charge for long-term care is second lowest in the country after the increase, second only to Quebec, which has a maximum charge of $1,712. The fees were last increased in February 2011, when they jumped three per cent.