As Seniors Sit Stuck on a Waiting List for Housing, Pressure Grows for More Flexibility

MLA Scott Cyr reads a member’s statement to the legislature. It is in response to a letter he received from the family of 87-year-old Zoe Bleau after her latest health scare.

She is on the waiting list at Bonnylodge and won’t get in unless changes are made to the provincially set scoring matrix.

“What the family asks and what I hope for is flexibility in the system so that people like Zoe Bleau get the care they need,” said Cyr last Tuesday. “It is unbelievable that in this day and age our seniors have to beg the government for the ability to age in dignity in local facilities like the Bonnylodge. The family of Zoe Bleau is begging, and sadly this government is turning their back on her. This needs to stop.”

This issue is becoming pertinent as incomes are growing among seniors.

Zoe Bleau is one of the 27 seniors languishing on the waiting list of the Bonnylodge because of the application’s income threshold.

When applying, the scoring matrix gives an immediate zero out of 15 points if your yearly income is above $28,650. Also, if you don’t qualify for Alberta Seniors Cash Benefit you get another zero out of 15.

That’s 30 points from 100 gone immediately.

It’s the most heavily-weighted category on the form, and can hurt the chances of applicants like Zoe Bleau with major health concerns, or those well into their 90s, down on the waiting list due to their income.

There’s almost no alternative for these at-risk seniors either, since there is so little subsidized housing for seniors already.

It’s the chief complaint of Bonnylodge right now, says Bonnyville town councillor Ray Prevost, and there’s nothing that can be done locally since it’s a provincial form.

He’s been pressuring the Minister of Housing and Seniors, Lori Sigurdson for more flexibility, but the province has shown no interest in reviewing it.

“This cannot go on. If I know nothing else, I do know one thing – the status quo cannot continue,” said Prevost.

With pension programs becoming the norm by the 1960’s and 1970’s, Prevost says that it won’t be long before everyone is above the threshold.

“As we move forward and this generation leaves us out of the lodge and pass on…what? Are we going to have an empty lodge? Because we’re all going to be above the income threshold. If you don’t change the income threshold or change the rules, I see no other way,” he said.

Some solutions could include allowing a certain percentage of high-income seniors in the lodge. For example, when the final phase of Bonnylodge is complete Oct. 2019, the province could ensure a percentage of the 120 rooms goes towards a high-income senior category.

Or the income threshold could be tiered, so a senior loses points incrementally the more income they earn, instead of immediately being knocked to zero.

“But don’t crucify them with a loss of 30 points because they’re 150 bucks above the income threshold. That to me is callous as far as I’m concerned. It makes no sense to me,” said Prevost.

Local MLA’s Scott Cyr (Bonnyville-Cold Lake) and David Hanson (Lac la Biche-Two Hills-St. Paul) are meeting with Lakeland Lodge and Housing on Nov. 16 to discuss what can be done in the meantime.

“We need to continue putting pressure on the Senior’s Minister because what happens here is that this matrix hasn’t been updated since 2005 and this threshold hasn’t changed since then,” said Cyr.

“People’s incomes go up over the years. It appears we’re excluding an entire part of Alberta from ever getting into our seniors care facilities that have waitlists,” he said.

The current situation leaves Bleau’s family to ask in the letter:

“Will the Minister step in now and get our 87 year old mother into the Bonnylodge? Our hearts are not ready to lose our Mom in a preventable situation. Please, we beg of you to do all you can to help her find a safe place in Bonnyville as soon as possible.”

Lakeland Connect has reached out to the Minister of Housing and Seniors, and is waiting for a response.