By Muniyra Douglas
Transcribed by Tiffany Trinh
In 2016, 70 year old Esa Lehmusjurri brutally died during an attempt to flee the illegal group home he resided in. His body was found 24 hours later in the neighbour's yard. This is just one of the many stories on the alarming number of deaths taking place in these group homes. Most occupants housed in illegal group homes are elders, who may suffer from both physical and mental health issues.
In this VIBE TALK interview, Correspondent Muniyra Douglas speaks with Wanda Morris; Vice President of Advocacy at CARP, formally known as Canadian Association for Retired Person. CARP is Canada’s largest advocacy association for elderly Canadian citizens. Wanda gives her thoughts on illegal group homes, addresses concerns regarding Canada Pension Plan (CPP) benefits, breaks down the associations focus areas for 2018 and why citizens of all ages should be concerned with the systematic issues affecting the elderly.
Muniyra: What are some of your members concerns with CPP benefits?
Wanda: One of the significant issues that older Canadians are facing relates to the high number of single Canadians that live in poverty. In specific, approximately 1 in 4 single Canadians, sixty five and over who live in poverty are women. The face of poverty in the elderly is overwhelming the face of women. It happens for a number of reasons. Women typically have been out of the workforce; raising kids, supporting spouses or providing benefits to the community. When they have worked, not only is it for fewer years but also at a lower rates of pay, so they simply don’t have the CPP and the kind of pension plan contribution that would provide them a maximum CPP pension in retirement. What also happens is that women tend to outlive their spouses because they’re tended to marry older and have a longer life expectancy than men. Increasingly now, we’re seeing divorce, where people separate after 65. What that means is we have more and more single people living on their own. And if you’re a couple and you both have CPP, both have Old Age Security (OAS) and you both have some saving; Retirement Savings Plan (RSP) or (Technical Standards & Safety Authority) TSSA, the couple might be getting along. Perhaps not living in luxury but making ends meet. Then, if one of the spouses dies or goes into care, suddenly you lose the OAS), you lose the CPP, you do get a survivor benefit but it doesn’t match the CPP that’s lost. There are other costs that are involved as well. So what we find very often is that someone who goes from being comfortably well off suddenly is in a fearful stage of poverty.
Muniyra: What are your thoughts on illegal group homes?
Wanda: I think that the conditions for many residents living in illegal group homes are unconscionable. We have seen reports from officials talking about filth, broken shards of glass and patients beds with species in them. You couldn't be in a prisoner of war camp and have such treatment be considered acceptable. How could it possibly be acceptable to our most vulnerable citizens; our oldest Canadians? What is possibly even worse, is that after officials have visited these places and noted the horrific conditions there, they have not moved to shut them down.
Muniyra: How difficult is it to be approved for long term care facilities?
Wanda: There are certainly some challenges. Some individuals who are living at home or are living on their own can find it extremely difficult to do so. Talking about home care and aging in place, in an ideal world that’s great. But, it typically takes a lot of support from spouse or other adult caregivers, whether they’re friends or neighbours. Some people simply need the support of long term care. Certainly not only do they need that now, but we’re looking into the future and what we likely anticipate there’s going to be growing demand for long term care which is a huge concern because even today there’s a significant waiting lists. What we found was that when people are on those list, so they’ve been approved for care but they’ve not yet found a bed, that either caregivers are being incredibly strained to try to provide support or the individual either at home or in something like an illegal group home simply not having their basic needs met.
Muniyra: What is financial abuse and what are some of the signs?
Wanda: Financial abuse is the most prevalent type of elder abuse and it typically happens by individuals that the elder knows. In fact, the most likely people to be perpetrating financial elder abuse are first an adult son, second a caregiver and third an adult daughter. It is a really serious and complex problem because often the person being abused is allowing for the abuse to happen because they feel as if they are in an untenable situation. For example, an adult child will call and say: “Hey mom I want to come visit you and I know you want to see those grandchildren but my car has had a funny noise and I need $500 to get it repaired.” So, we get all these situations of blackmail. We have situations where people go to help with groceries and add other items to the bill. A really prevalent type of financial abuse is with powers of attorney, where an individual is losing their cognitive capacity and appointed someone to look after them and look over their financial affairs. That individual either through neglect or simply a lack of knowledge and skills is not paying the bills or using the funds of the elder for purposes that are not supporting the quality of life of the elder.
Muniyra: What were some of your highlights for 2017?
Wanda: So, we were delighted in 2017 that we saw the government come through with its commitment to homecare; that has been something we’ve been working on for many years. Certainly those billions of dollars will be welcomed. We’ve worked very hard on investor protection, there’s much more work to be done. But we say that often it’s not what’s illegal and all of the frauds and poverty schemes that are the worst abuse, but what our current regulation really allows to happen and some of the high seas and conflicts of interest that many people face throughout their lifetime. Partially, issues when they’re trying to save for and fund their own retirement. We also opened an office on the West Coast, which was very exciting for us because it’s the first time we have had an office outside of Ontario. As well, as that we’ve campaigned for improvements in long term care and have had a number of wins in Ontario, including funding for a national strategy.
“Federal and provincial governments need to hear from Canadians on policies and legislation that sooner or later affect us all. CARP ensures that older Canadians’ voices are heard in Parliament and that vital political promises are made and kept.”
- Moses Znaimer, CARP President
Muniyra: What is your focus going into 2018?
Wanda: Looking forward to 2018, right now we’re very focused on the plight of pensioners, a number of years ago pensioners lost half their pensions. Sears has lost their benefits; their health and dental, and it looks like they’re going to be facing cuts in their pensions. What we believe is that other companies are sure to follow without legislations, without laws of better protection on pensions across the country. We’re taking a look at that. Affordable housing is on our radar. It’s really the cracks of poverty, if you don’t have a safe, clean place to stay, you have no quality of life. If you’re living in Vancouver or Toronto, or someplace where prices have gone up so much, you’re living on a low income. Many seniors are really struggling. Individuals with a registered retirement income fund, which is what you must convert an RSP to when you’re 71, are being forced to draw that down and pay taxes on it, at a rate that really doesn't fight with the low interest rate and the increased longevity that so many older Canadians now have.
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This is the last of the four part series, if you missed any of the parts, they are listed below.