Young enough to work, too old for benefits? Care home didn’t tell longtime employee felled by heart attack at 72 she was ineligible for long-term disability or that her life insurance had been cancelled, angry son says

When Kildonan Long Term Care Home opened its doors more than 20 years ago, Pamela Sam was there to greet its first residents.

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When Kildonan Long Term Care Home opened its doors more than 20 years ago, Pamela Sam was there to greet its first residents.

“She was there from Day 1,” Sean Sam said of his late mother.

A “stickler for detail,” the longtime health-care aide made it her mission to ensure new trainees knew what they were doing, Sam said.

“She was a very particular health-care aide,” he said. “If, after a while, a (trainee) couldn’t get one of the residents to drink their coffee or eat their orange, my mom would say, ‘Hey, this is your job, figure this out quickly because these people depend on you.’

“She was that type of employee.”

JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

When his mom's health took a turn for the worse, Sean Sam says her long-time employer denied her employment benefits routinely provided to younger employees.

But when the 72 year old’s health took a turn for the worse and forced her off the job, the employer she dedicated so much of her life to turned its back and denied her employment benefits routinely provided to younger employees, Sam said.

“The way that these folks are trying to treat her, will be over my dead body,” he said. “I will see to it that we bring awareness to this.”

Kildonan Long Term Care Home is one of 10 personal-care facilities and retirement homes in the city operated by Revera Inc.

Sam said his mother suffered a heart attack last November and used her accumulated sick and vacation days as she recuperated. In the months that followed, Pamela was in and out of hospital and suffered several strokes.

When Pamela’s sick time and vacation days ran out last April, her CUPE union rep told Sam the union would apply for long-term disability on her behalf.

“That’s when we found out she wasn’t eligible for long-term disability because she had been cut off without even being notified that she wasn’t eligible for it (after she turned 65),” Sam said, adding he soon learned his mother’s employer-sponsored life insurance had also been cancelled the day after she turned 70, again without her knowledge.

“The way that these folks are trying to treat her, will be over my dead body… I will see to it that we bring awareness to this.”–Sean Sam

CUPE filed a grievance against Revera before Pamela Sam died last month.

“The union believes that this is a case worth fighting to protect the members,” national CUPE rep Nino Jurial said before deferring further comment to a union spokesperson.

Sam said older employees should be entitled to the same benefits as younger ones, especially at a time when the health-care sector is desperate to hire and retain staff and is encouraging retirees to return to the workplace.

“It is OK to not be eligible for long-term disability if you aren’t allowed to work… but if they are in the workforce they should be covered like the rest of Canadians who are working,” Sam said.

“If my mom is 71 years old and she is getting up at four in the morning like a 25 year old and going to work for eight hours and busting her ass, she should have the same coverage as that 25 year old — it’s just that damn simple,” he said.

JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Sean Sam said older employees should be entitled to the same benefits as younger ones, especially at a time when the health-care sector is desperate to hire and retain staff and is encouraging retirees to return to the workplace.

Sam said Revera offered his mother a “24-day salary retirement package” before she died, which he turned down.

“Why are you insulting my mother?” he said. “We aren’t interested in that. We are interested in you treating her like you would any other employee.”

Sam said Revera’s chosen life insurance provider carries a policy geared to employees over the age of 70, but that option isn’t made available to them.

“Which is underhanded and nasty, if you ask me, because I can be good enough to come and work for you but I’m not good enough to be covered?” he said. “Why not be decent and cover your employees? Because the coverage is there.”

“It is OK to not be eligible for long-term disability if you aren’t allowed to work… but if they are in the workforce they should be covered like the rest of Canadians who are working.”–Sean Sam

If an employee is not going to be eligible for certain kinds of health coverage after a certain age, they need to know that at the time they are hired, said Canadian Association of Retired Persons Manitoba president Carmen Nedohin, emphasizing she could not comment specifically on Sam’s case.

“If seniors find themselves in a position where they believe benefits have been taken away from them due to their age, they should ask their employer for proof they were told at time of hiring that these benefits would run out,” Nedohin said.

The denial of health insurance benefits to working seniors is “profoundly ageist,” Laura Tamblyn Watts, president of national seniors advocacy group CanAge, wrote in an email to the Free Press.

At a time when more seniors are delaying retirement or are returning to the workforce, insurance companies have not updated their policies to accommodate them, Tamblyn Watts said.

“This means not only can a person be working full time, even often in a union position, but if they are over an age cutoff, they will have little or no extended coverages for many key health needs, including disability coverages,” she said.

Revera did not reply to a Free Press request for comment Tuesday.

dean.pritchard@freepress.mb.ca

Dean Pritchard

Dean Pritchard
Courts reporter

Someone once said a journalist is just a reporter in a good suit. Dean Pritchard doesn’t own a good suit. But he knows a good lawsuit.

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