Rate increase hits Yukon seniors

Carle Baines found out last week that as of September his rent will go up $420 per month. Baines lives at the Thomson Centre, a continuing care facility. Rates for continuing care are set to go up across the territory.

Carle Baines found out last week that as of September his rent will go up $420 per month.

Baines lives at the Thomson Centre, a continuing care facility.

Rates for continuing care are set to go up across the territory.

The daily rate will go from $18 to $35 at McDonald and Macaulay Lodges, and from $21 to $35 at the Thomson Centre and Copper Ridge Place.

Baines says he cannot afford the increase.

“You finally, as a Yukoner, get a place to spend the rest of your life, and then they put it out of your price range. What are we supposed to do?”

Baines is a 65-year-old who has lived in Yukon most of his adult life.

“I never had a career where it would pay a pension,” he said. “I was always just sort of panning gold, staking, cooking – whatever needed to be done. And that’s the way a lot of people got around.”

He ended up in continuing care five years ago because of multiple health issues.

He supports himself on a disability pension and Yukon’s seniors income supplement, he said.

With the increase in rates, he won’t be able to afford groceries or cable, said Baines.

“Why do you want to go through your whole life debt free, you’re in a place like this where you’ve got multiple medical problems, and all of a sudden you’re a senior citizen and now you have to go to social services? That’s a kick in the face, to me. I feel really bad about it.”

Baines found out about the rate increase in an impersonal letter that incorrectly identified him as “Ms.”

While there is contact information on the letter for people who could answer questions, no one from the government has reached out to him to offer support, said Baines.

He also felt miffed that Health Minister Doug Graham did not sign the letter, he said.

“I noticed Mr. Graham didn’t have the guts – this is my opinion – didn’t have the guts to sign it himself. He had his assistant deputy sign it. That tells me a lot about the man himself.”

The government has defended the move, saying that the increase is affordable for single people on a low or fixed income, and brings the Yukon in line with other jurisdictions.

“It was very carefully calculated to allow people to maintain some income,” said Pat Living, a spokesperson with Health and Social Services.

The daily rate for continuing care includes accommodations, meals, nursing, medical supplies and prescription drugs.

The actual cost to the government for providing the service is between $310 and $470 per day, according to a press release.

And an increase to rates, which have not changed in 20 years, was recommend by a 2008 health care review.

But that review recommended a gradual increase in rates, and suggested one possibility where rates would increase to $32 per day over five years.

The review also recommended possibly grandfathering existing residents in at existing rates until they leave the facility.

According to data in the health care review document, all other jurisdictions with the exception of Nunavut charge a range of rates based on the type of accommodation or the individual’s income.

Nunavut does not charge a user fee for continuing care.

The Yukon’s new rates would put it above the minimum rates in all but Alberta, New Brunswick and P.E.I.

About half the residents at the Thomson Centre won’t be able to afford the new rates, said Baines.

“If the government had based this increase on each individual’s ability to pay, they could have saved themselves and the residents a lot of trouble,” he said.

Instead, some residents will be looking to new sources of government funding.

“It’s going to end up to be the government taking money this way and giving it back through another department. It doesn’t accomplish anything.”

He has seen an increase in the number of residents who come from Outside, achieve the one-year residency requirement and move into continuing care, said Baines.

For them, the rate increase seems affordable because they could be paying much more down south at a private facility, he said.

It’s those who have spent their lives paying taxes in the Yukon who are getting hit the hardest, he said.

“I think that a bunch of long-time Yukoners are getting trod on.”

The NDP Opposition has also raised concerns about the sudden increase in fees.

The impact will be great not only on those in continuing care, but on their families, said MLA Jan Stick.

“I’ve heard from a woman who lives in her own home, but her husband is in continuing care,” she said. “So between the two pensions, this kind of increase is really going to impact her level of living, her lifestyle. She now has to find an extra $6,000 (per year) out of their pensions to pay for her husband.”

But Stick is hopeful that solutions will be found for those who cannot pay, she said.

“I’m not worried that all of a sudden they are going to be kicking people out because they haven’t got money. I know that’s not going to happen.”

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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