COVER

AN INDEPENDENT PURSUIT

MONEY COUNTS IN RETIREMENT HOMES

TOM FENNELL August 19 1991
COVER

AN INDEPENDENT PURSUIT

MONEY COUNTS IN RETIREMENT HOMES

TOM FENNELL August 19 1991

AN INDEPENDENT PURSUIT

COVER

MONEY COUNTS IN RETIREMENT HOMES

Surrounded by neat lawns and towering forests, the Crozier Manor retirement home evoked images of contented senior citizens enjoying the fruits of their lifelong labors. In reality, life in the white frame villa near the sleepy Ontario resort town of Dorset, 200 km north of Toronto, was often grim. In August, 1986, 69-year-old Frederick Spalding died after he was scalded in a bathtub. Last February, an Ontario district court judge in Bracebridge found the home’s operators, Wayne and Margaret Berry, guilty of criminal negligence in the case. As well, Wayne Berry was convicted of assault for twisting another resident’s ears and hitting him with his elbow. Convicted on a total of six charges in connection with events at the home, Berry and his wife were sentenced to 20 months and four months in prison respectively. The case shed a harsh light on the extremes that exist in retirement homes for elderly Canadians. Although many wealthy people live in luxurious retirement complexes that charge as much as $5,000 a month and offer exercise instructors, live entertainment and gourmet meals, many lowor middle-income Canadians spend their final years

in shabby, uncomfortable surroundings.

Currently, more than 200,000 people—or about six per cent of all Canadians over 65— live in retirement homes, where they can maintain a degree of independence, or in nursing homes for the elderly infirm. Experts on geriatric care say that during the next 45 years, demand for accommodation for the elderly will soar as the number of Canadians over 65 swells to nearly 29 per cent of the total population. For many senior citizens, the quality of their lives will depend as much on their financial health as on their physical well-being. Already, many elderly people living on little more than federal old-age benefits of about $800 a month are being relegated to bleak retirement homes with few amenities. At the same time, many middle-income Canadians have to battle to maintain their financial savings and dignity in retirement. Said Marie Felker, 75, who faced a substantial rent increase on her $l,100-a-month apartment in a Toronto senior citizens complex: “I didn’t work all my life to see them take my money away by the fistful.”

The problems facing elderly citizens and

their families revolve around the basic issues of health care, security—and money. Each province has a complicated web of regulations governing the management of housing facilities for the elderly. Across the country, retirement residences range from private homes like Crozier Manor to publicly supported establishments that are under government supervision. Unlike some provinces, Ontario considers a retirement home like Crozier Manor a private business and does not subject such homes to special regulation. Conditions in some unregulated retirement homes can be appalling. “There is a real mix in Quebec,” said Miriam Green, director general of Montreal’s Ville Marie Social Services, a public agency that provides services for children, the handicapped and the elderly. “In some of the private homes, people get great service and they pay for it. But some are terrible. Nobody monitors them.” Upscale: For elderly Canadians who are healthy and have ample financial resources, entering an upscale senior citizens complex is not much different than checking into a firstclass hotel. At the Wellesley of St. James, a 13storey senior citizens’ complex in Winnipeg’s St. James district, visitors are received in a carpeted foyer decorated in warm pastel colors, with wing-backed chairs arranged in front of a brass fireplace. Three times a week, waiters serve high tea on fine china in the Wellesley’s lounge, and each of the building’s 630-square-foot apartments, which rent for between $1,325 and $1,355 a month, have fully equipped kitchens, large closets and wallto-wall carpeting. The list of services available to Wellesley residents includes maid and laundry service, a hairdressing salon and an exercise room.

Marcella Mobberley, 83, moved into the Wellesley four years ago after her husband, an Air Canada maintenance supervisor, died. Mobberley said that she appreciates the companionship and security at the Wellesley. “If you want to have company, you just go downstairs,” she said. “If you want to be alone and have peace and quiet, you go to your apartment. Nobody pressures you.” Added Alexander Roh, 70, a retired medical technologist who also lives at the Wellesley: “Life here is as you make it. I come and go as I wish. I can go downtown or visit my friends at will.”

In Vancouver, the city’s Crofton Manor provides luxury accommodation for healthy senior citizens as well as those requiring special atten| tion. The cost of living at the Manor ranges S from $2,000 to $3,900 a month. Crofton Manor has two graciously appointed dining rooms,

decorated with fresh flowers, in courtyard settings. Rooms and suites have peach, blue and burgundy interiors. Residents who require daily health care are lodged in a separate wing where nursing services are available 24 hours a day. Said Crofton administrator Carol Omstead: “The nursing-home image is not what we’re about.”

Spartan: Elderly Canadians in weak health usually encounter more Spartan conditions when they move into nursing homes. That is because provincial regulations in most parts of the country are geared to creating a nursinghome system in which privately and publicly operated homes offer identical services. Ac-

cording to Michael Bausch, president of the Ontario Long Term Residential Care Association, regulations in most provinces discourage or prevent private nursing-home operators from catering exclusively to the well-to-do. The result, said Bausch, is a system of “tickytacky boxes with no creativity.”

The three-storey, 202-bed Centre d’accueil Lasalle retirement home in southwest Montreal is one of many larger nursing homes across Canada. The floors of the centre are covered in institutional tile and linoleum, and residents eat in a large central dining hall. The bedrooms resemble those in a hospital, with sinks located next to doors that lead to toilets.

Hortense Joannette, 79, a former housewife, has lived since 1981 in the Centre d’accueil

Lasalle, where she pays $1,100 a month. She says that she often takes part in excursions and other activities, including painting courses. She says that when she is not feeling well, she switches on a closed-circuit television channel to watch special events in the home’s recreation room and relieve her sense of isolation. “I came here because the ambulance was always at my door,” said Joannette, who suffers from arthritis and diabetes. “If you ever have to come to a place like this, you’d be lucky to come here.”

For their part, the operators of Ontario’s Crozier Manor said that the scalding death there five years ago was an accident. Said

Berry: “It could have happened to anybody.” According to testimony at the Berrys’ trial, their 17-year-old son, Kirk, was alone on the night shift and in charge of about 30 residents when the accident happened. According to the boy’s testimony, he left the old man alone in the bathroom and later found him in the bathtub. Other witnesses said that the man had been so badly scalded that skin was falling off his body. Witnesses also testified that after Spalding was taken out of the bathtub, he was left for several hours before receiving medical attention.

Wayne Berry, who currently is free on bail while his conviction is being appealed, this month sold another retirement home that he operated near London, Ont. He said that the operators of retirement homes face many

risks. “There is no home for these people,” said Berry, who sold Crozier Manor in 1986. “But there is a noose around the neck of anyone operating a retirement home. If a person wanders away, you’re guilty of neglect. If you touch someone, you're guilty of assault.” Meanwhile, some residents of Berry’s Sarah Johnston retirement home near London said that they were satisfied with his management. Declared Anna Bezanson, 72: “I like it here. I am well cared for.”

Even Canadians who are relatively healthy and were wealthy enough to move into efficiently run retirement homes or senior citizens’ apartments now say that their pension incomes are stretched by inflation and rent increases. As a result, many of them say that they are under pressure to move into less expensive apartments or into publicly subsidized old-age homes.

Dinners: Toronto’s Marie Felker, for one, moved into her apartment four years ago. Her $1,100 monthly rent includes 15 dinners a month in the building’s dining room. Felker, who never married, worked for 50 years as an office management executive and amassed a retirement income of $32,000 a year. Still, she said that a proposed 40-per-cent rent increase, which residents of her building are currently appealing to provincial rental authorities, would cut heavily into her savings and probably force her to move to less comfortable surroundings. Added Felker: “I’ll be damned if I’ll reduce my standard of living.”

q Meanwhile, government 5 planners across Canada are s trying to make it possible for 2 elderly Canadians to stay out I of institutions for as long as J possible by keeping them in my door' their own homes. As a result,

the average age of Canadians entering nursing homes that care for the severely ill has risen to 85 from 75 during the past 10 years. Experts say that many of the elderly could stay in their homes even longer if they received extensive home-care services, which are becoming more available. Betty Havens, Manitoba’s assistant deputy minister of health, for one, said that the overall thrust of new provincial programs is to keep the elderly “healthy and active” in their homes and communities—a policy that will postpone for some elderly Canadians the harshness of life in some of the country’s more austere institutions.

TOM FENNELL

DAN BURKE

MAUREEN BROSNAHAN

ADRIENNE WEBB