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September 23, 2012
VANCOUVER, BC, Sep 23, 2012/ Troy Media/ – After 35 years working for the Department of Highways in many small town government offices in southern B.C., Uncle Oliver finally pulled the pin and retired in 1981. He was 55.
Prior to his retirement he had purchased a hillside lot in Salmon Arm, and built a modest prefabricated cedar log home where he indulged his passions of model airplane building and flying, hunting and fishing in the local countryside, and sailing his home-built boat on Shuswap Lake. With a good friend nearby and his government pensions, there was also the opportunity to travel, mostly to Alberta for goose hunting and backcountry exploring. Thirty years flew by.
In 2011 Oliver was 85, and starting to feel that the garden upkeep and winter snow shoveling were more than he wanted to face, so he put his home on the market. A young physician bought the place, and Oliver elected to move into a private-care seniors’ residence in town. His new ‘home’ was literally a small bed- sitting room in what had once been a motel. Meals and social activities were provided by the friendly staff, which regularly checked in on Oliver as he mostly kept to himself.
As a confirmed old bachelor he had set routines that never varied. In his own home these included baking bread, weekly trips to the library, Safeway and his bank, and Saturday meetings with his model airplane club. At the retirement home he watched daily reruns of Star Trek, and all the hockey and baseball games he could find in the thousand-channel TV universe. Trips to town now simply involved weekly visits to check his bank- book balances. This was all done face-to-face with humans, as the ATM interface was just too much.
And then came a series of falls in the hallways on the way to meals. Falls from bed were next, with accompanying bouts of confusion. Oliver was sent to Emergency in an ambulance for observation. His long-time doctor and a geriatric care team diagnosed a series of small strokes, and decided to keep him in the hospital for observation. He was moved to a chronic care room with three other beds, all separated by white curtains. In this semi-public space there was no TV.
Luckily, a member of our extended family lived one hour away, and came to see Oliver for regular weekly visits. His sister, nieces and nephew in the lower mainland stayed in touch by phone. Last week my sister and I drove up to spend the weekend meeting with his care team, and helping to arrange for Oliver’s next move.
The key members of his care team proved to be wonderful advocates of his recovery and desire to once again enjoy his cherished privacy. They were also realists, for they have many patients facing similar scenarios at this stage of life.
It is imperative that he now move out of a valuable hospital chronic care bed. Such beds cost the taxpayers at least $1,000 per day. So far he has spent 43 days in that bed, much of it well enough to move on, but awaiting a new bed in an extended care facility that will provide an enhanced level of medical and nursing assistance. There is a ‘log jam’ up ahead of Oliver, as someone has to move or die to vacate a space in the existing facilities.
As an intermediate step, he will go to a nearby facility that really functions as a holding care provider to await his extended care placement. In this temporary ‘home’, he will once again be in a shared room.
The final destination will offer Oliver his cherished private room and TV, but will not be entirely privately operated. It is characterized as a ‘public-private partnership facility (or PPP),’ and will offer Oliver some form of means-tested care, at a price based on his ability to pay. Once again, the taxpayers will be kindly intervening to help out.
It is impossible to participate in the above real life drama, without asking the health care providers how society is going to cope with the impending Boomer retirement wave? ‘It’s going to be crazy,’ one of them said, ‘You’d better develop strong relationships with family now, because they’re going to have to provide much more of this kind of care in the future. The system is already straining to cope.’
If you are a Boomer, be kind to your children and extended family. You’ll likely be seeing a lot more of them in your retirement.
Troy Media syndicated columnist Mike Robinson has lived half of his life in Alberta and half in B.C. In Calgary he worked for eight years in the oil patch, 14 in academia, and eight years as a cultural CEO. Now back In Vancouver, he is still a cultural CEO, but also has business interests in a resource company and mutual funds.
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