The Government giveth and the Government taketh away
Recently in the House of Assembly, more relief for our seniors was promised by the Premier and Minister of Finance, David Burt. The promise of additional support with the aim to make sure seniors homes can be sustainable in the long term may be accomplished by aligning payroll taxes, financial assistance, transfers of seniors from the hospital to senior care homes and continued support outlined in the 2017 Long Term Care Plan.
The dilemma for senior care homes is the unforeseen consequences of government financial support. Virtually all senior homes rely on a portion of their income from seniors on financial assistance. However, a large portion of that government financial assistance goes right back to the Government in the form of taxes, leaving a small percentage of the monthly income for the actual care and operations within the senior homes. In a nutshell, the Government giveth and the Government taketh away.
The Minister of Finance has pledged to align spending and “get it right” so that senior homes are sustainable in the long term. The immediate challenge for the Government in relation to seniors homes has been to reconcile the unexpected and substantial costs of Covid restrictions imposed by the Ministry of Health as a result of the global pandemic. Senior homes continue to carry the financial burden of purchasing PPE, additional expenses resulting from extended sick leave and additional wages to cover absent staff owing to mandatory isolation and other strict health regulations.
Senior care homes have lost income from daycare programmes and have strict quarantines before welcoming new residents. They are losing large amounts of income, which threatens their ability to remain open and provide adequate care to senior residents. Our seniors homes are a vital support service for our growing seniors population.
Government statisticians predict the proportion of seniors will climb to 25 per cent of Bermuda’s total population by 2026. One solution is a full review of the industry to ensure a larger percentage of the government financial support is received by senior homes for the direct care of residents and not given right back to the Government in taxes. Another solution is the long-term view of increasing the number of employed and contributing young people in Bermuda to pay into the health system and assist funding to senior care homes.
Our health system is under constant strain whether it be the hospital or senior care homes. The money just isn’t there any more because of young professionals leaving or not being attracted to the island. To ease the strain, we need to grow the resident population and increase those young and healthy people to support the system.
As the minister rightly stated, we must get the long-term care of our seniors right. Government does not have unlimited resources and more needs to be done to make sure our senior population, including senior care homes are sustainable for the long term.
• Susan Jackson is an opposition backbencher and the MP for Pembroke South West (Constituency 20)