Pushing for freedom

Ontario Retirement Communities Association pushing government to create Senior Services Benefit to put control for care back in the hands of seniors

Laurie Johnston, ORCA CEO

By Joel Wittnebel

It’s a simple enough idea. One that would put more money into the hands of seniors, allowing them to choose the care and services they need in order to live independently for longer. In turn, it could have a direct impact on a crisis in long-term care that is raging across the province.

The Senior Services Benefit is an idea that has been long proposed by the Ontario Retirement Communities Association (ORCA), and with the Ontario election this month, Laurie Johnston, the ORCA CEO knew that it was time to step up the efforts to try and make the benefit a priority.

“This affordable benefit is something that is being used worldwide in all other western nations and we’re just very slow to pick up on it here in Canada,” she says. “I don’t think there’s anybody out there who doesn’t want to be able to have choice at the end of the day and the Senior Services Benefit allows people to choose how they’re going to remain in the community and be supported.”

Put simply, the Senior Services benefit would create a program to allow seniors to receive money, based on assessment criteria, that would allow them to pick the proper care they need, whether that’s home care, support services, rent, or even food.

“It allows people to choose how they’re going to create the framework around them they need to remain independent,” Johnston says, noting that a large portion of the pressure being placed on the long-term care system is from people who may not be in long-term care beds for health reasons, but because life is simply becoming unaffordable for them. Currently, wait lists for long-term care beds in Ontario are extensive, with the average wait time for a care bed being 161 days. Currently, Ontario has a waiting list for long-term care beds of over 33,000 people according to information from the Ontario Long-term Care Association.

“Nobody is talking about the fact that there are many seniors out there who are on the edge of not being able to remain independent. Not necessarily because of their health, but because of money,” Johnston says. “So, the idea of having a Senior Services Benefit is to provide them with a top-up that allows them to stay where they are and purchase services that are appropriate for them without having to go through a difficult and quite frankly, expensive, government program.”

Currently, seniors can receive assistance through their Local Health Integration Network (LHIN), where they are assessed and provided with a list of what care they are eligible for. Johnston says it is often a confusing and faulty process.

“It’s convoluted and the senior is not in charge, and this is where it really is not a service to the senior,” she says. “The senior does not know who is going to show up on any given day when they receive that service, they have no option if somebody doesn’t show up, where do they go?”

Currently, the idea has received little traction from politicians, despite the fact that ORCA has been attempting to get the Liberal government onboard for a number of years. Moving forward, Johnston says that ORCA will continue to push for the benefit to be implemented.

“This is really the only way that we’re going to be able to afford what’s happening to our society in terms of demographics,” she says.

Statistically speaking, it’s estimated that by 2036, there will be over 10 million seniors living in Canada. Johnston says “there’s no question” in her mind that such a benefit would help to alleviate pressure on the systems designed to support seniors.

“I think it’s just a matter of getting the message out and I believe that people are going to latch onto this because it just makes sense.”