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                     Angry Kingston seniors group likens fee hike to ‘elder abuse'

By Ian Elliott

Tuesday, July 30, 2002 - 7:00:00 AM

Local News - The Ontario government’s plan to raise long-term care fees by almost 16 per cent is a form of “elder abuse,” a report by a Kingston seniors group says.
The report released by the Frontenac-Kingston Council on Aging calls on the province to rescind the fee hike, which is due to kick in Thursday, and work with the federal government to establish a public long-term care insurance policy, similar to the Canada Pension Plan.
The report also calls on Ontario to offer seniors protection against any dramatic rent increase in the future.
“It’s hard to understand why they’d do such a thing,” said Christine McMillan, president of the council and one of the report’s four authors.
“Especially when the increase also applies to people at St. Mary’s of the Lake Hospital, people who have to live there because they have no choice.”
The government announced several weeks ago that it is raising the fees paid by people in long-term care facilities by $7 a day, or $200 a month, effective Aug. 1. That works out to a 15.8-per-cent increase.
Reaction to the announcement was immediate and negative. Opposition leaders and a number of organizations concerned with seniors’ issues criticized the move as a cash grab from some of society’s most vulnerable people.
While the government promised that people who couldn’t pay the increase would not be thrown onto the street, critics worried that seniors could be forced from private rooms to wards, home residents could face the humiliating prospect of applying for a subsidy or families could be forced to pay more for an elderly parent’s care.
McMillan said that forcing seniors to pay such an increase is the equivalent of extorting money from them if they lived at home.
“It’s aimed at seniors and they have no choice but to pay it,” she said.
“That makes it elder abuse.”
The Council on Aging hastily formed a committee after the new fees were announced by the government and its office was swamped with calls from people outraged at the move.
The report was compiled by four board members of the council: McMillan, former Pittsburgh Township reeve Vince Maloney, retired psychologist Audrey Cobden and retired nurse Norma O’Shea.
They met residents’ committees at local long-term care centres, where they also found general outrage over the fee hike.
The one proposal the committee developed itself was for a public long-term care insurance fund, which would provide a substantial pot of money to look after the baby boom generation when it begins to retire in the 2010s.
“I don’t know of anyone else who has proposed that,” said McMillan, a former government policy adviser.
Kingston and the Islands MPP John Gerretsen, Liberal critic for long-term care, applauded the report, calling the fee hike “humongous and outrageous.”
He has spent the past three weeks meeting seniors groups and touring long-term care centres across the province and says both his riding office and his Toronto office have been swamped with phone calls.
“It’s outrageous that the province would treat the seniors of this province in this way,” he said.
Gerretsen and party leader Dalton McGuinty plan a news conference for tomorrow, the day before the fees are to kick in, to condemn the increase.
Premier Ernie Eves is scheduled to issue a statement on the issue today.
Both Gerretsen and McMillan say they hope the government will back off the increase after the public outcry.
“We have no idea what [Eves] is going to say, but we’d like to see the fee increase rolled back to something more reasonable, say $1 a day,” Gerretsen said.
“We’re going to have to see what he has to say,” agreed McMillan.
“What we’re fearful of is him saying that he understands people don’t like the fees but the government is going through with them anyway.”