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$733M in new fed funding for B.C. seniors welcome, but won't go far

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It’s certainly being welcomed by everyone involved in British Columbia’s senior care industry, but a new agreement for $733 million dollars in federal funds over five years doesn’t go very far.

B.C.’s health minister and his federal counterpart signed the country’s first bilateral “Aging with Dignity” agreement for the funding, which is aimed at increasing home support, adding staff to long-term care and dementia care facilities, as well as expanding palliative care options.

“These are jobs that require human beings for and that direct person-to-person care is absolutely critical,” said federal Health Minister Mark Holland.

Adrian Dix pointed out the province’s demographics are rapidly changing, with life expectancy growing as an exceptionally large portion of the population ages, meaning massive strain and demand on the health care and social supports seniors count on, and that’s why “the federal minister and the federal government working with the provincial government to increase and make improvements to the system.”

But one of his predecessors is cautioning the public not to expect too much from what appears, at first blush, to be a massive number.

“Health care can chew up dollars very, very quickly and seniors care is expensive,” said Terry Lake, current president of the BC Care Providers Association, who points out the provincial government has already plugged huge amounts of new money into seniors care.

“Any new funds injected into the system will be welcome, but I think we have to be cautious that it's not going to revolutionize the system,” he said in a one-on-one interview with CTV News. “We still need to remind ourselves that the demand for seniors care is outstripping the supply and will continue to do so, so this is a start, but it's not going to turn everything around.”

The Hospital Employees Union issued a statement applauding the funding, which they describe as going a “considerable way to continue improving access to proper, unrushed seniors’ care” but say “fragmentation” of the system has made the BC NDP investments less effective.

CTV News asked Holland whether he had any expectations for numbers of beds opened or people hired with the funds. He said “the provinces, of course, are responsible for the administration of their health system, and our job is to be supportive in meeting their objectives,” but he expects detailed annual reporting on spending that he expects will demonstrate improvements in measurable outcomes.

When CTV News pressed both ministers as to what they would do to attract workers to the health-care field in the face of a society-wide staffing crisis, Dix said they’re already expanding training spots, working to expand scope of practice to maximize impact, while speeding up credentialing of foreign-trained professionals.

“The answer is not that we have to do one thing,” he said. “It's that we have to do all those things and more.”

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