The two Government run homes equipped to handle patients with Dementia and Alzheimer’s are all full, with no immediate plans to increase the number of beds or new Government owned facilities.

The facilities administrated by the public services sector which are full to capacity are Lefroy House, and the Sylvia Richardson Care Facility. Westmeath, which also deals with patients affected by Alzheimer’s or Dementia, is a privately run facility.

Health Minister Jeanne Atherden faced an extensive round of questions by Opposition MPs on Friday, after providing an update on the Government regulation of rest homes and nursing homes in Bermuda.

The Minister conceded that “we don’t have enough homes” to meet the mounting demand, when Opposition MP Rolfe Commissiong said all of three Government-run facilities that deal with patients with Dementia or Alzheimer’s were full.

He said he was not convinced that “the Minister nor her government” were putting in “the types of investment that is going to be needed to address the exponential growth of this population segment”.

“With the explosive growth of our senior population which is projected to reach between 16 to 18 percent of our overall population by 2020, the dependency ratio in light of the declining number of young workers in the population will only continue to get worse,” said Mr Commissiong.

“My biggest concern is that as ever growing numbers of the ‘baby boomer’ population enter into their senior years, too many will find little in the way of family to support them due to the dismal birthrates that Bermuda has faced over the last three decades.

“Secondly, too many seniors now and increasingly over the next decade, will be manifestly incapable of supporting themselves financially in retirement – as too few have the necessary savings and adequate pensions necessary to ensure that their golden years will be without hardship.”

He noted that these concerns were “present and credible” before the economic crash of 2008 occurred.

“How much more dire are the projections now as many Bermudians found their savings and wealth decimated by the great recession? This is more of an acute problem in the black community, but significant numbers of white Bermudians will not be immune to these outcomes either,” he said.

“Ongoing unemployment has also worsened health outcomes, particularly for those who are 50 years and above. Also incidences of Dementia and Alzheimer’s have increased tremendously.

“When you add the growing health demands on our system by the above and the strains that this will have on our finances we could be facing somewhat of a demographically generated, fiscal tsunami in this regard fairly soon.”

He also questioned the Minister’s response to some of these challenges, “particularly the lack of capacity to provide this specialized care”.

“The Minister placed great faith in free market forces in meeting that need. I am not so sanguine as we all know that when the profit motive comes up against genuine human need, particularly in the healthcare domain, invariably incentives will be to often misaligned in favour of the profit motive.

“In response she appears to place great store in regulation protecting the interests of the clients and/or our seniors within the for profit model,” said Mr Commissiong.

“We continue to ignore the evidence in my view, at our own peril.”

The first to rise was Zane DeSilva, who wanted to know if hospital patients in extended care were still costing taxpayers $30,000 a month. The Minister said she knows that figure was under review, but she said she will get the answer. Mr DeSilva also asked how many seniors are currently in King Edward VII Memorial Hospital being charged at that rate?

The next MP to rise with more questions was Opposition MP Derrick Burgess, who wanted a breakdown on the 400 beds registered collectively in nursing homes and rest home beds. Ms Atherden said 161 beds were listed in nursing homes and the rest of the 400 were in rest homes.

Mr Burgess, then asked what the Government was doing in light of Bermuda’s rapidly increasing senior citizen population to increase the number of beds available.

Essentially, the Minister said the Government is not planning on increasing the number of Government owned homes, but rather “to facilitate new homes” that are Government regulated. She noted that owning such facilities brings extra issues like the responsibility to “run and operate it as owners”.

Mr Burgess then asked: “Is the Minister saying the Government has no responsibility for our seniors?” Ms Atherden quickly retorted: “No, I did not say that!”

Opposition MP Walter Roban asked if the Minister “would at least agree that those homes run by Government are taking good care of our seniors”. Ms Atherden replied: “Absolutely! And we want to make sure those standards are replicated throughout the island.

She also told Mr Roban that she was aware of “at least four individuals who are interested in opening new homes with a range of services” for the elderly. “And we will facilitate however we can to make it financially viable,” said Ms Atherden.

At $30,000 per month per patient, Mr DeSilva suggested the amount of money paid out annually, could be used to fund the construction of specialized facilities.

“This could be a good initiative for the Bermuda Hospitals Board,” he said. The Minister agreed. But she said: “Another option is to see how we can make it attractive to some of the lenders.”

Mr DeSilva insisted the amount of money paid out for extended elder care could “go towards building a few homes around the island”.

“This would give entrepreneurs an opportunity to move into this area of business and get a financial boost to get started. This huge outlay by Government would then be substantially reduced. Another possibility is these funds could be utilised to expand Lefroy House and/or the Sylvia Richardson Care Facility,” saif Mr DeSilva.

On another note he pointed out that it wasn’t too long ago that Wedco Chairman Ray Charlton advocated the expansion of Lefroy House while canvassing in the last general election as a One Bermuda Alliance (OBA) party candidate.

“Prior to the 2012 election he was in the press every week talking about how bad things were at Lefroy House, ” said Mr DeSilva. He noted that Premier Dunkley, said Lefroy was in deplorable state and should be shut down in the lead up to that election.

Shadow Minister of Education, Lovitta Foggo suggested that Government should take a look at facilities like Horizons, that could be transformed into elder care facilities.

“My concern is that there are buildings/facilities available that may be readily converted into healthcare and nursing facilities to house our seniors (and others). And that this can be far more cost effective, especially since cost seems to be the major concern for the OBA,” said Ms Foggo.

The Minister stressed that a long term strategy to get more beds is being looked at by Government. But that did not quell the concerns raised by the Opposition, or the fact that in the interim, all three facilities have long waiting lists for new admissions.

Current projections show senior citizens will make up 22 percent of Bermuda’s total population in just 14 years time by the year 2030.

Over the years there have many calls for a national strategy to address the increasing demand on issues like healthcare subsidies that begin at age 65, and how those subsidies increase with age.

It should also be noted that 56 percent of households headed up by senior citizens age 65 and over, are considered homes below the poverty line. And the numbers will increase as Bermuda’s population grows older.

As stated in the past, Bermuda Real will state again: to continue on our present course is NOT sustainable!

By Ceola Wilson