Minister says government not trying to shut them down
Seeing seniors move out of their personal care home is an all too familiar sight for Herb Spurrell.
The owner of a personal care home, he told The Telegram Thursday afternoon that this time last year he closed the doors of his small facility in Trepassey after many years of fighting with the provincial government.
“It was devastating, to tell seniors they had to leave. We’re in the position of caring for people not throwing them out of their homes,” he said, adding the last resident moved out Jan. 14, 2013.
Spurrell said he had to lay off six full-time employees.
A director for personal care homes with under 50 beds with the Personal Care Home Owners Association, Spurrell was responding to the announcement by Neville’s Special Care Home in St. Mary’s that it was closing.
Owner Paul Neville told The Telegram Wednesday they’ve already begun moving residents to other homes in the area.
Neville blamed a lack of financial consideration from the government for having to close after 20 years in operation in the rural community.
“I don’t know if it’s by design or by accident, but they’re certainly rooting us out of business,” he said.
Spurrell suggests the reason small personal care homes are experiencing financial challenges is because of “government’s mismanagement” of the personal care home program.
“Government has recklessly put policies in place that has put homes out of business and more that are about to go out of business,” he said.
Spurrell said since June 2012, six small homes have closed and more are likely to shutter over the next several months.
One of those homes belonged to Genevieve Kennedy who contacted The Telegram Thursday morning.
“I closed my personal care home Aug. 31, 2012 because I was facing the exact same problems as the Neville’s and the Scalles’s in Labrador,” she wrote.
“We are the victims of government policies and procedures, the residents who had to leave their homes, the staff who lost jobs and the homeowners who invested their life savings,” Kennedy said.
The association, she said, spent years emphasizing to the province the problems that would come to bear if there wasn’t any intervention.
Kennedy said nobody listened and as a result a dangerous situation is brooding.
Health and Community Services Minister Susan Sullivan told The Telegram in an emailed statement late Wednesday, the provincial government doesn’t want to see any businesses close, especially ones that provide a valuable service in the community.
“The provincial government is committed to the personal care home industry and recognizes the integral role it plays in providing care to seniors,” she said.
With this in mind, Sullivan said an industry-government liaison committee has been formed to provide a forum where issues can be shared and new opportunities identified to enhance the care received by residents in personal care home.
The committee has met three times since it formed last year. The most recent meeting was Tuesday.
There are approximately 95 personal-care facilities providing Level 1 and 2 care to about 4,000 seniors across the province.
Shaun Lane, the association’s president, said the problem with some of these homes stems from staffing and financial models implemented by the province that don’t work for all facilities.
For example, the staffing requirements for smaller homes are the same for some of the larger ones.
Lane said in a personal-care home with 22 residents, the owner has to have two staff in the building during the night — the same number required for a facility with 59 residents.
“If I have 22 people in a small rural community facility, I’m forced to give a one to 11 ratio on my night shift. But if I have one in a larger setting with 44 people, I’m allowed to have one staff per 22 residents — it just becomes so bizarre it’s not even funny,” he told The Telegram Wednesday.
The health minister said staffing requirements are based on a minimum number of required hours of care per resident and the overall number of residents in the home.
“As the number of residents increase, the number of staff will also increase. However, a smaller home may have a higher staff-to-resident ratio, as every facility has to be staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” said Sullivan.
In a follow up email to The Telegram Thursday, the minister said since 2005, the monthly personal care home subsidy for provincial government-subsidized clients has grown by more than $700 — from $1,138 to $1,850 per month.
“This increase acknowledged the increase in such operational costs as utilities and food that are experienced by operators,” Sullivan said.
In addition to the monthly subsidy, investments have also included a small home subsidy of $2,000 per month to assist qualifying homes. So far this year, 35 homes have been approved with total funding of $838,000.
As well, she said, $1 million in 2013-14 has been approved for 100 new portable subsidies and the introduction of subsidized respite care.
Liberal health critic Andrew Parsons says to see personal care homes close at a time when the number of seniors is growing is an indication that what the government has been doing isn’t helping.
“Anytime someone brings this up, they say, ‘We’ve done this since 2005, and that since 2005,’ but obviously it’s not enough,” he told The Telegram Thursday afternoon.
“And the fact several of these homes have closed since 2012 speaks volumes.”
The closure of homes in Happy Valley-Goose Bay and St. Mary’s, he said, is another example of the government’s continued failure to meet the needs of the elderly.
“Personal care homes have been finding it harder and harder to keep their doors open as government has increased staffing requirements for homes, increased the minimum wage and eliminated the night subsidy,” said Parsons.
“Changes made by government have put our seniors, the operators and communities in a losing situation.”