Making life better for central Alberta seniors

By Lori Sigurdson, Minister of Seniors and Housing

When seniors can remain in their community, safely and comfortably, everyone wins.

That’s why we are making investments in programs and services that help seniors.

Previous governments didn’t think this was a priority. They chose not to invest and have left us with a massive need for social housing. That’s why we’ve increased funding for home and community care. It’s why we are investing in seniors’affordable housing, as part of a larger plan to create 4,100 new housing units. And it’s why we are making low-interest loans available to
help seniors pay for renovations and upgrades that make their homes safer.

Last year more than 116,000 Albertans received home-care services, roughly equal to the population of Red Deer and Lacombe combined.

That’s how many seniors were able to remain close to their families and friends, to keep going to their same church or visiting their neighbours. More importantly, that’s how many seniors were able to remain independent.

That’s not always possible, so it’s important that there are welcoming, supportive places that feel just like home.

Our government is creating 2,000 new long-term care and dementia spaces across Alberta. In Red Deer alone, 274 continuing care spaces have been opened at three facilities: Covenant Health’s Villa Marie, Points West Living - Red Deer, and Christenson Communities’ Timberstone Village.

Two additional projects are under development, which will provide an additional 186 continuing care spaces in the Red Deer area. We are also developing a new, focused approach to fund the building of future continuing care spaces where they are needed.

This fall we passed the Resident and Families Council Act to ensure that residents of long-term care facilities, and their families, can create self-governing councils and have a say in their care.

This Act means that operators of longterm care and supportive living facilities must work with residents and families to ensure they have the opportunity to help create caring and supportive environments.

I’m always excited to talk to families about ways they can plan for the future.

In July 2016, our government introduced the Seniors Home Adaptation and Repair Program (SHARP), which supports seniors to make upgrades and renovations that allow them to live in their homes longer.

SHARP helps eligible seniors access up to $40,000 in low-interest loans from the equity in their home, to be paid back when the home is sold, or at any time of the senior’s choosing. We have provided nearly 1,000 loans.

We’ve also expanded the Special Needs Assistance for Seniors (SNA) program.

SNA provides financial assistance to seniors on low-income to help cover the health and personal costs they face, things like traveling expenses to get to a medical specialist.

We cut the round-trip travel distance to qualify for assistance from 100 km to 80 km, and the mileage cap of 400 km was removed entirely.

This provides seniors with the financial and social support they need to remain safe, healthy, and independent as long as possible.

In addition to making it easier for those who choose to remain in their homes, we are expanding housing options and availability.

We released Alberta‘s new Affordable Housing Strategy last summer. At the same time, we reviewed and updated the Alberta Housing Act regulations, and signed a new Social Housing Agreement with the federal government. In fact, throughout the province there are approximately 60 major capital projects in development across Alberta, like the expanded Crowsnest Pass seniors lodge, the brand new seniors’apartments in Grande Prairie, and Bow River Lodge in Canmore.

Seniors built this province, and they deserve to age in their communities with the supports that keep them safe and meet their needs.

Whether it is helping seniors stay in their homes longer, investing in programs and services that they count on, or ensuring affordable housing is made available, we are working to make life better for our seniors and everyday families.

First published Jan. 17, 2018, in the Red Deer Express