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Seniors population, long-term care demand continue to grow, advocate says

As the seniors population continues to dramatically increase in B.C., so does the demand for long-term care, along with the wait times to get into LTC facilities, according to the B.C. Seniors Advocate.
Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie is photographed at her office in Victoria, Friday, Dec. 15, 2017. British Columbia's seniors advocate says more visitors should be allowed into long-term care and assisted-living facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

As the seniors population continues to dramatically increase in B.C., so does the demand for long-term care, along with the wait times to get into LTC facilities, according to the B.C. Seniors Advocate.

In her report, Long Term Care Quick Facts Directory and Monitoring Seniors Services 2020, Isobel Mackenzie also found a disturbing increase in the amount of elder abuse.

The key findings in the report were:

• The population 65 and over increased four per cent in the last year. In the past 10 years the proportion of the B.C. population 65 plus has increased 27 per cent, however, the proportion 85 plus has remained relatively stable at two per cent of the population. 

• The long-term care (LTC) bed rate per 1,000 of population age 85 plus has decreased nine per cent in the last five years and a variety of measures show increased wait times for long-term care in the past year: clients on the wait list increased 27 per cent (total 2,259), the average time on the waitlist increased by three per cent (133 days), the average wait time of 52 days for clients admitted to long-term care is an increase of 37 per cent and the number admitted within 30 days decreased 11 per cent.

• Overall, there was a 67 per cent increase in the number of LTC homes funded for 3.36 hours of care, the most significant annual increase to date.

• Overall, the age and complexity characteristics of residents in LTC remains unchanged and has been stable over the past five years.

 • Progress has been made in reducing falls with injury in LTC but have stalled on the goal of reducing the use of antipsychotics. 

• Overall, there was a 17 per cent increase in the number of substantiated complaints to licensing. 

• Calls related to elder abuse increased 17 per cent in 2019. The Seniors Abuse and Information Line (SAIL) received 5,558 calls in 2019, an increase of 27 per cent since 2018 - 28 per cent were related to abuse, 46 per cent to non-abuse matters and 26 per cent were for general information. 

Mackenzie’s report also looked at more general issues around seniors well-being. Some of those findings were:

• The overall health of B.C. seniors remains relatively stable and with more significant chronic conditions and health care utilization at age 85 plus.

• The majority of B.C. seniors (94 per cent) continue to live independently in their own home. Overall three per cent of seniors live in long-term care and three per cent live in seniors’ independent/assisted living. This has remained stable over the past five years. 

• Emergency department and hospitalization rates for those over 65 increased relative to the population increase and although the length of stay has continued to decline there was a five per cent increase in alternative length of stay (ALC) cases after two years of only marginal increases.    

• 85 per cent of long-term care residents and 69 per cent of staff were vaccinated for influenza, a decrease of two per cent for residents and a decrease of five per cent for staff.

• The Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters (S.A.F.E.R) saw a three per cent increase in the number of recipients, on pace with the growth in the target population, while rental rates increased four per cent on average. The rental cap for S.A.F.E.R. remained unchanged. 

• For the first time in four years, the number of seniors subsidized housing units increased, however, the waitlist increased by 11 per cent and the median wait time for a unit increased 13 per cent. 

• The Property Tax Deferment program continues to grow, with an increase of 10 per cent in 2019/20.

• The majority of seniors (79 per cent) maintain an active driver’s licence and 75,300 seniors age 80 and over were screened for the driver medical fitness. This past year saw an 18 per cent decrease in the number of over 80 drivers referred to a road assessment (six per cent in total referred). 

• There was a 7 per cent increase in the number of seniors using the BC Bus Pass.

• The rate of inflation in B.C. was higher than the Canadian average putting a further strain on federal income supports such as OAS/GIS and CPP. 

It is important to note that the serious impacts of COVID-19 are not included in this data, which relates to fiscal 2019/20. 

Many of the indicators affected by COVID-19 will be represented in next year’s reports.

“The number of seniors continues to grow in British Columbia and monitoring the services they depend upon is a key function of this office," Mackenzie said. "As British Columbians, our challenge is ensuring important services are working as intended and reaching the people who need them most.”