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FHA unfairly treated care home seniors: Report

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B.C.'s Ombudsperson is scolding the Fraser Health Authority for forcing seniors to move from a Surrey care home in 2009, despite written assurances they could stay.

Kim Carter concluded Fraser treated residents at Newton Regency care home unfairly when it reneged on its earlier 2008 promise that they would not have to leave their temporarily funded beds.

"A commitment voluntarily made by a public agency is something which should be taken seriously and that people should be able to rely on,” Carter said.

Fraser Health agreed to apologize to the affected 39 seniors and their families.

Carter's investigation was triggered after three families complained to the Ombudsperson's office.

Fraser was closing temporarily funded beds in care home beds in 2009 to save money as part of budget restraint and decided it could no longer wait for beds to empty through attrition.

It left upset and concerned residents with a difficult choice: Move to a care facility they didn't want that had a space; wait for a bed to open up at a different facility they preferred; move back into the community with home support; or pay much more for a private bed at Newton Regency.

Residents at the time complained of "callous, bullying" treatment that left them ending up in smaller rooms or different care homes, in some cases far from spouses or families who had chosen to live near Newton Regency.

Carter's report said Fraser Health could not explain what it did, if anything, to assess the health and safety risks the move might pose to the dozens of frail and elderly residents.

"We were, however, provided information on how public/media/political risks were assessed for closings of temporarily funded beds at specific facilities," Carter noted.

Her report said most of 331 residents in temporarily funded beds in Fraser Health in 2009 were not informed the funding was going to run out.

Carter concluded the plan to cut funding at Newton Regency was "administratively convenient and cost-effective" for Fraser but was not flexible enough for residents, who were given 49 days to get out.

In her report, titled "Honouring Commitments", Carter issued a series of seven recommendations.

Besides issuing an apology, she recommends Fraser provide at least 60 days notice of decisions to stop funding beds and ensure operators give notice.

Residents should also be informed if an offered placement is permanent or temporary and the difference should be explained.

Fraser Health CEO Dr. Nigel Murray said in a response letter the authority accepts the recommendations and has implemented most of them.

He said cutting nearly $160 million from Fraser's budget in 2009 had "very significant and personal impacts" on the lives of affected residents.

Residents placed in temporarily funded beds are now told of the implications when they are placed.

NDP public health critic Guy Gentner said it was "reprehensible" to treat seniors as Newton Regency "as though they are chattel moved about like furniture."

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