VANCOUVER - British Columbia's Health Ministry has ignored most of the recommendations in a report on seniors' care in the province, says a think tank calling for government action for an aging population.
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives said that of the 176 recommendations made in the February 2012 report by ombudswoman Kim Carter, 140 were specifically directed at the Health Ministry.
Of those recommendations, 66 per cent have been ignored while only six per cent have been fully implemented, the centre said Thursday.
Their report found most of the remaining recommendations made in the most comprehensive report ever produced by the Office of the Ombudsperson have either been partly carried out or are under consideration.
Carter examined home support, assisted living and residential care services in B.C. after public complaints to her office, prompting an investigation in 2008 and the release of the first part of her report the following year.
Most of the recommendations in the second part of the report that came out a year and a half ago call on the Health Ministry to take a leadership role in providing direction to health authorities and work with them to ensure consistent standards for seniors' care.
However, Marcy Cohen of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, said in the followup report released Thursday that the ministry's lack of leadership is appalling, especially when it comes to inadequate public reporting on service levels.
"The Ministry of Health has not fulfilled its responsibility to set appropriate standards of care and service levels to ensure seniors' needs are met no matter where they live in the province," she said in a statement.
Cohen said an important bright spot is the creation of a new seniors' advocate position, although that person would face a system plagued by gaps.
The ministry does not yet know when the advocate will be hired, however.
Among her recommendations, Carter called on the government to track key home and community care data and report it publicly in an annual home and community care report.
She also said seniors should be protected through consistent reporting of abuse and neglect and that people who complain about services in good faith should get protection from any adverse consequences.
During her investigation, Carter found the Health Ministry had failed to ensure that seniors and their families had access to adequate assistance and support to navigate the complex home and community care system.
She also said the government had not analyzed whether the home support program was meeting its goal of assisting seniors to live in their own homes for as long as possible.
"It is ineffective and inadequate for the Ministry of Health to rely on responding to complaints and serious incident reports as its main form of oversight for assisted living," she said.
Carter said the Health Ministry's decision to maintain two separate legislative frameworks for residential care have resulted in unfair differences in the care and services seniors receive and the fees they pay.
On Thursday, the Health Ministry responded to a request for information on proposed improvements to seniors' care by providing an April 2013 letter that deputy minister Graham Whitmarsh sent to the Office of the Ombudsperson. That was after the office asked for an update on the government's plan for seniors' care.
In the letter, Whitmarsh said the government is aiming to make several improvements, including providing ways for complaints to be heard and dealt with in a timely way.
By June 2013, all health authorities were to have policies in place to prevent reprisal against anyone who reports alleged wrongdoing or a complaint about the quality of care.
In his letter, Whitmarsh said the government is working on ways for seniors and their families to better access information on various services while creating policies to improve the protection of vulnerable seniors from abuse and neglect.
He noted that in February, the government appointed MLA Ralph Sultan as the new minister of state for seniors to act as their voice at the cabinet table.
By February, a year after Carter's report, the ministry had completed the majority of its short-term commitments in the seniors action plan, he said.
However, the Health Ministry was not able to provide timelines on Thursday for when some of its proposed improvements would be implemented.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version incorrectly reported the number of recommendations the ministry failed to act upon.