B.C.'s Opposition NDP says the provincial government should require privately held Retirement Concepts to "grandfather" 21 residents who face eviction from a facility in Vancouver's west side after the company ended its contract with the local health authority.
And if elected, the New Democrats say they would seek to protect subsidized residents through contracts that would prevent operators from evicting subsidized residents in favour of more lucrative private-pay clients.
"We would, as government, make it clear to Retirement Concepts that these people must be 'grandparented' – they must be allowed to stay in their home for the rest of their lives," NDP MLA George Heyman said Tuesday at a news conference outside the Terraces on 7th building.
"I've called on the Minister of Health never to allow a contract to be signed where subsidies are given to private operators for some of their beds – unless it's understood that [the contract] is for as long as the person living there needs to be living there," he said.
Last week, 21 residents at Terraces received notice that their subsidized assisted-living units would no longer be available as of Sept. 30, because the building's operator had given notice on its contract with Vancouver Coastal Health to provide the units.
In a joint letter to tenants, Terraces and VCH said the change was a "business decision" and they would help tenants find new accommodation and pay for moving costs. But residents and family members are upset, saying the pending move is stressful and shows a lack of concern for seniors' physical and emotional well-being.
The provincial Ministry of Health was not immediately able to comment on Mr. Heyman's suggested policy changes. But in an e-mail, ministry spokeswoman Kristy Anderson referred to recent investments in seniors' care, including an announcement in March for $500-million over the next four years to improve seniors' care on multiple fronts.
Despite concerns that other contract providers could follow Retirement Concepts' lead, the ministry "is not aware of any other providers or facilities planning to end their contracts," Ms. Anderson said.
"In general, health authorities' ongoing relationships with their contracted providers are positive and long-standing," Ms. Anderson said.
"VCH does not interpret this one situation [at Terraces] to be indicative of a trend," she added.
If the province were to have concerns about contract operators ending contracts early – and lessening the number of subsidized assisted-living units in the process – it could address such concerns through longer-term contracts, said Daniel Fontaine, president of the B.C. Care Providers Association, a group that represents more than 300 non-government care operators.
"What we've been saying is, 'why don't you look at longer-term contracts, so you're looking at five years or maybe longer' – so that there is some certainty there for providers," Mr. Fontaine said.
Currently, health authorities tend to enter into shorter contracts – which give health authorities flexibility to end arrangements when they are no longer needed, but may be less appealing to providers, he said.
Assisted living is designed for seniors or people with disabilities who are still relatively independent but need help with meals or personal care.
Fees for subsidized assisted living are based on 70 per cent of after-tax income.
Resident Phyllis Burt has lived at Terraces on 7th for about a decade and has been rattled by the notice given last week and worries about what comes next.
"It's absolute hell," Ms. Burt, 93, said after the news conference.
Ms. Burt, who said she has many friends in the complex, finds the neighbourhood convenient and has formed close relationships with staff.
"It's hard to believe it's happening," she said. "This is our life."