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B.C. urgently needs more affordable units and stronger regulations for assisted living sector

By Contributor
June 28th, 2023

The BC Seniors Advocate has released a review of assisted living and is calling on government to address the current confusing legislative landscape to protect seniors from significant rent and service fee increases, improve oversight and reporting, and address affordability challenges by increasing the number of publicly subsidized assisted living units.

“Our office hears regularly from seniors and their families about high rent and service fee increases and they are confused about their legal protections because they don’t know which provincial laws, if any, apply,” stated BC Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie.

“Our review found that the public, operators and regulators need clarity regarding what services, oversight and protections apply for seniors in both assisted living and independent living. We know some independent living operators have been arguing their residents are not protected by either the Residential Tenancy Act or the Community Care and Assisted Living Act. This is wrong, and seniors in B.C. need to know that they cannot be compelled to sign away their tenancy rights which are protected by law.” 

The review also identified growing demand for publicly subsidized assisted living and noted the only increase in the past five years has been in private pay assisted living units. Overall, the report noted a 15% decrease in the rate of publicly subsidized assisted living units per 1,000 of the target population 75+ over the past five years.

“Despite a 52% funding increase for publicly subsidized assisted living over the past five years, there has been no increase in either the number of units available or service levels for existing residents,” said Mackenzie.

“The proportional waitlist for publicly subsidized assisted living is 50% higher than that of long-term care even though assisted living costs the health care system half as much as long-term care and is a fraction of the cost of acute care. We urgently need to provide more affordable assisted living for seniors who need it and divert some of our admissions to long-term care.” 

In addition to issues related to tenancy protection and access, the report also addresses gaps in quality assurance. 

“Currently there are no regulatory requirements for staffing levels or staff qualifications, and no requirement for annual inspections in assisted living in B.C. In the last year, less than half of the assisted living sites were inspected by the Assisted Living Registrar’s office. In addition to gaps in monitoring quality and safety, there is also no detailed accounting for money spent on publicly funded assisted living,” continued Mackenzie.

The BC Seniors Advocate is recommending government take the following actions:

  • Significantly increase the capacity of the publicly subsidized assisted living program with more units and expanded services, stating the demand is clear, and the cost effectiveness is compelling.
  • Reduce the confusion that seniors and their family members experience as they navigate assisted living and other congregate living arrangements.
  • The public, the operators and the regulators need to clearly know what is assisted living, what is not, and what services, oversight and protections apply to whom. Mixing different types of residency in one building will make it difficult to achieve this and consideration must be given to requiring all residents in a congregate setting to be under the same classification of tenancy.
  • Provide explicit tenancy protection under the Residential Tenancy Act for all residents in all congregate living settings including assisted living.
  • Address affordability issues in both publicly subsidized and private pay assisted living.
  • Strengthen the effectiveness of current monitoring and enforcement systems as they relate to quality assurance, resident safety and value for investment in publicly subsidized assisted living.

“Assisted living is an important option for seniors who want to remain independent but find managing a home difficult or want to live in a more social setting where they don’t have to prepare meals or do a lot of housework, and they know that help, when needed, is nearby.” said Mackenzie.

“However, we must act now to ensure assisted living units are available, safe and affordable for single seniors and couples who feel it is time to transition to a residential setting where they have more daily support.”

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