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Nursing-home users protest 15% provincial fee increase
Seniors urged to not pay $213 monthly hike

Theresa Boyle

A seniors' advocacy group is urging nursing home residents to defy the province by withholding a $213 monthly fee hike, due to take effect tomorrow.

"It's a form of protest. We're telling people not to pay," said Jane Meadus, a lawyer with the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly.

Meantime, sources have told The Star the province is considering a plan to phase in the increase over a longer period of time.

An official from the office of associate minister of health and long-term care, Dan Newman, denied such a plan was afoot Monday but yesterday said she didn't know if the government would slow the pace of the increase.

Ontario's 525 long-term care centres learned of the 15 per cent hike on June 28, the day after the legislature recessed for the summer and the eve of the long weekend. They got no more than a month's notice.

Under the changes, the daily rate for basic accommodation in a four-person ward room is jumping to $51.53 from $44.51. The new semi-private rate is $59.53, up from $52.51. And private accommodation will cost $69.53, up from $62.51.

Residents in private and semi-private rooms who don't pay the increase risk being downgraded to ward rooms.

The government said the accommodation fee hike will free up money for nursing and personal care.

Newman says the government will subsidize anyone who cannot afford the new rate anyone with an annual income of less that $21,150. That includes seniors totally reliant on government pensions and income supplements.

Currently about 40 per cent of Ontario's 60,000-plus long-term care beds are reserved for residents who rely on subsidized accommodation.

Most of the rest pay their own way and the majority of this group stay in "preferred accommodation" private or semi-private rooms.

Meadus is urging residents in preferred rooms to use their muscle and stymie the government's plans. She's advising them to request a move to cheaper ward rooms and withhold both the $213 increase and the preferred accommodation rate.

There's no way the bulk of such requests could be accommodated, she said, noting there are already waiting lists of up to two years for ward rooms.

Because long-term care centres cannot evict anyone, residents would more than likely be able to stay in their private and semi-private rooms, she said.

"I think this would really hamstring the government because if enough people did this, the government wouldn't get the extra money it's looking for," she said.

To meet legal requirements, residents must make the requests in writing, Meadus explained.

They should explicitly state that they are withdrawing consent to pay for a private or semi-private room.

Provincial laws state that long-term-care centres cannot demand payment for preferred accommodation without resident consent. So once a resident requests a transfer to a ward room, consent for the preferred rate has been withdrawn.

Newman is expected to hold a news conference today or tomorrow, outlining how much extra money the province plans to put into nursing and personal care at long-term care centres. Sources have said he's also expected to announce that the full 15 per cent fee hike will not take effect immediately and that it will be phased in over a longer period of time.

Newman's office refuses to confirm this.

The government is under increasing pressure to reconsider the move.

New Democrat MPPs yesterday held "rocking chair" protests around the province to denounce the increase.

Stephanie Blakeman attended one such protest in Toronto. She handles her 83-year-old mother's finances and she plans to withhold the fee hike.

"The only way I see of making a statement is by not paying it," she said. "I'd be happy to pay a small increase, like 3 or 4 or 5 per cent, but not 15 per cent."

Blakeman said her mother, like many seniors, did not get the required 30 days' notice of the increase. She only learned of it from the nursing home on July 3.

"The government's not even meeting their own legal requirements," she said.

NDP MPP Marilyn Churley (Toronto-Danforth) condemned the government's "sneaky attack" on vulnerable seniors.

She noted Torontonians were preoccupied with a garbage strike when the government quietly sent letters to nursing homes informing them of the increase.

"I guess the government thought it could get away with this attack on seniors. They'll realize quickly that they made a strategic error," Churley added.

Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty and MPP John Gerretsen (Kingston and the Islands) plan to hold a news conference on the matter of nursing care accommodation fees today.

To contact MPP John Gerretsen, please see our CONTACT MPs AND MPPs PAGE.