Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

It's good to be rich if you're going to get old

Personal care home space limited, pricey

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Think of our health-care system as a python. Now think of my cohort as a bowling ball wedged in its throat.

What has been dubbed the Silver Tsunami is rapidly gaining strength.

The first baby boomers turned 65 in 2011. In 2006, according to data collected by the University of Manitoba's Centre on Aging, there were 161,885 Manitobans aged 65 to 74. By 2031, it's projected there will be 36,000 Manitobans over the age of 85.

We've spent decades filling universities, supporting the economy and keeping the best jobs for ourselves. Now some of us will become a burden on an already-struggling health-care system.

The crisis has begun, as demonstrated in the pages of this newspaper. The story of 78-year-old Elvira Umbach, who was released from a city hospital following a heart attack without home-care support in place, angered many.

The hospital apologized, and will have someone in her house three times a day to ensure she takes her prescriptions and to provide light housekeeping. This angered another segment of the city, who see caregiving for the elderly as a family responsibility.

Umbach is not a baby boomer, but she's the canary in the coal mine for those of us now in our 50s and 60s. If we want to stay in our homes, we may require help. The WRHA's Home Care program has just over 14,000 Winnipeggers getting assistance every month. About 70 per cent of them are 65 or older.

Each visit costs $15 and Home Care conducts an average of 1,100 visits a day. But the program is not a guaranteed service. If a worker doesn't show up, family members scramble to meet the needs.

As the child of a man who required home care to lift him out of bed and into his wheelchair in his last years of life, I can attest to the fear and frustration when no one arrived at the door.

If the time comes for a senior to be admitted to a personal care home, families have to open their wallets. The cost varies according to annual income. If you've saved well and invested successfully, you can pay up to $76 per day. That's almost $28,000 a year.

If you're going to get old, it's better to be rich.

An assisted-living facility, where seniors live in their own apartments but have most meals provided on a set schedule, can cost $3,000 a month or more.

Dr. David Strang, medical director of the WRHA Rehab and Geriatric Program and the Regional Personal Care Home Program, says in aging, as in much of life, "having more disposable assets can help you manage."

And if you don't, a room in a nursing home can be had for as little as $32.50 a day. When you add your old Age security and Guaranteed Income Supplement cheques together, they cover your costs. You'll even have a few bucks left over for your newspaper subscription and the odd gin and tonic with the girls.

There are 145 interim care beds at the Misericordia Health Centre for people waiting to get into a personal care home. Some people are placed within days or weeks. Others wait a long time. Some die waiting, the result of being part of a vulnerable population requiring the services of a nursing home.

Strang says the province is planning for the full weight of the Silver Tsunami, when the boomers become the "older elderly." At 65, most people should be able to live independently and in robust health. At 80, the need for assisted living or nursing homes increases. The province will build more facilities to house the bowling ball in the python.

But what about family responsibility? Shouldn't we be looking after our own? Well, yes, but families have fewer children and they're living further away. Women, traditionally tasked with caring for the elderly, have jobs outside the home and their own children to care for.

The boomers have always had high expectations. We didn't expect our senior years to be marked by financial insecurity and difficulty accessing the care we need. But if you've been coasting along, believing in the myth of Freedom 55, you should prepare yourself for a very different, less free old age.

lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 23, 2013 B2

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About Lindor Reynolds

National Newspaper Award winner Lindor Reynolds began work at the Free Press as a 17-year-old proofreader. It was a rough introduction to the news business.

Many years later, armed with a university education and a portfolio of published work, she was hired as a Free Press columnist. During her 20-plus years on the job she has written for every section in the paper, with the exception of Business. She’ll get around to them some day.

Lindor has received considerable recognition for her writing. Her awards include the Will Rogers Humanitarian Award, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ general interest award and the North American Travel Journalists Association top prize.
Her work on Internet luring led to an amendment to the Criminal Code of Canada and her coverage of the child welfare system prompted a change to Manitoba Child and Family Services Act to make the safety of children paramount.

She has earned three citations of merit for the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism and has been awarded a Distinguished Alumni commendation from the University of Winnipeg. Lindor was also named a YMCA/YWCA  Woman of Distinction.

She is married with four daughters. If her house was on fire and the kids and dog were safe, she’d grab her passport.
 
lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

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