Regional home-care spending falls as demand outstrips funds
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Health authority spending on home-care clients in western and southern Manitoba dropped over the past four years, as demand for the essential service that allows people to continue living at home outpaced funding.
In the 2021-22 fiscal year, Prairie Mountain Health spent an average of $5,500 to deliver home care services to 7,284 clients, down 15 per cent from 2017-18, according to freedom of information records tabled by the Manitoba New Democratic Party in question period Thursday.
Self and family managed care (SFMC) clients in the western Manitoba health region, which includes Brandon, also saw the average number of dollars spent on home care decline by six per cent per client in the same period.
Records show the authority spent $4,204,957 to deliver care to 144 SFMC clients, or an average of $29,201 per person, down from the $31,199 it spent per person in 2017-18.
Meanwhile, the number of people receiving home care, either directly from the region or through the SFMC program, increased by 1,125 and 28, respectively, while the total number of care hours dropped 10 per cent in the same four-year period.
“Home-care workers are stretched too thin to give each client the attention they deserve,” Opposition Leader Wab Kinew said in question period.
The Fort Rouge MLA challenged Premier Heather Stefanson to reverse cuts to home care and increase mileage rates. The premier rebuked the NDP leader’s attack, calling claims of cuts to health-care spending just “plain wrong.”
Stefanson said the governing Progressive Conservatives are working on a strategy to improve home care while dealing with significant staffing shortages.
“When it comes to home care, and within our health-care system, we know that there is a shortage of workers right across the system,” Stefanson said. “Those are challenges that we’re taking on.”
Changes in spending per client is based on needs assessments and are not “an intentional reduction of funding,” a spokesperson for Prairie Mountain Health said in a statement.
The region reported a 25 per cent vacancy rate in home care over the past five years. Service was also interrupted in recent years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Efficiencies of hours, which do not impact direct client care, continue to be achieved by working on optimizing home-care attendant hours across the region,” the spokesperson said.
Southern Health, which serves residents in Steinbach, Morden and the Pembina Valley region, also spent less on its home-care clients, on average, in the past fiscal year compared to 2017-18, the first budget year for the Tories.
According to the records, Southern Health spent an average of $6,296 on its 5,270 clients in 2021-22, down 11 per cent from 2017-18. For SFMC clients, average spending did not increase, or decrease, significantly. The cumulative number of care hours provided dropped by 17 per cent.
“When a government takes a decision to reduce funding and it results in fewer hours of care at the bedside, that is a cut,” Kinew said. “That means more people waiting in pain, that mean more people having to go without essential services like meal prep and laundry.”
In a statement, a spokesperson for Southern Health said it had a 24 per cent vacancy rate for home-care attendants in the past four years with recruitment challenges leading to an active wait list.
The authority said suspended home care services during the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the amount spent per client over the past few years while more clients moved to the SFMC program.
The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, meanwhile, bucked the trend of its rural counterparts, spending 9.7 per cent more, on average, for clients in its home-care program in 2021-22. However, the average spend on clients in SFMC dropped by about 20 per cent, from $36,436 per client in 2017-18 to $29,122 last year.
According to the health authority, it has supported moving as many clients as possible into the SFMC program as it helps create additional capacity within the system.
“This week, we have heard terrible stories from Manitobans not being able to get enough hours of home care,” NDP MLA Malaya Marcelino told the house. “The number of those needing home care continues to climb.”
Sathya Kovac, 44, died Monday via the Medical Assistance in Dying program. The Winnipeg woman had ALS and chose MAiD because of difficulties she encountered with home care that made it unpalatable to continue living, the Free Press reported Tuesday.
“I get kind of mad when people think this… has everything to do with my body and decline… I don’t feel like I have choices,” Kovac told the Free Press in an interview before her death. “I don’t have enough help and that is the reason. Period.”
Seniors and Long-term Care Minister Scott Johnston said he shares Marcelino’s concerns about home care.
“We are in a process of establishing and reviewing our whole home-care strategies to ensure that the needs of Manitobans will be met in the future,” Johnston said during question period. “We are looking for input from Manitobans to come to terms with this and we will be providing solutions.”
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.