As we age: It’s wise to keep elderly close to home

Moving family across this big country has its challenges

  • Dec. 13, 2012 1:00 p.m.

I’m expecting, as the news spreads to my mother of the challenges of a family in Calgary, to get a stern, “I told you so” from her.

Her decision to go into a retirement home in her home province of Newfoundland, rather than spend the winter with my family in another province, was driven largely by her fear that if something happened, she’d become a huge burden on us.

In Calgary last week, a family discovered that their decision to move their aging grandmother from New Brunswick to Alberta three months ago has a complication.  While it makes perfect sense for families to be closer to support each other, in the Canadian health care system, timing is everything. Unfortunately for this family, when the grandmother suffered a serious stroke, and required full-time medical support, her lack of residency time in Alberta made her ineligible for a home paid for with public funds.  Private care was the only option, and beyond the financial capability of the family.

It’s important that we all understand that while Canada has a socialized medical system, it is not a federal system and, thus, not a universal medical system.

In other words, outside of your home province, you do not have the same medical services available as you do inside your home province.

In fact, when you are visiting another province, or have just moved to another province, you have little other than emergency care available.

Complicating this even more is the fact that there are different residential requirements for different services and different requirements in different provinces.

Bottom line?  You have to do some pretty careful research before you decide to move an elderly person from one province to another, and perhaps investigate some private medical insurance to cover the inevitable gaps in services that will accompany such moves.

We have a tendency to be smug about our medical care in Canada, perhaps even take it for granted, but it is a much more complex system than most of us realize.

But travel outside the province, or moving to another province, is not something to be taken for granted.

There are, of course, always private options when the provincial medical plan does not meet the needs of a family.  But as anyone who has experienced private care knows, it is generally very expensive.

Going from $0 a month to $5,000 a month or more is no small financial adjustment for most families, and, quite frankly, probably impossible for the majority of us.

In Calgary, the province is arguing that with limited resources, their priority for service has to give Alberta residents first option. The family is arguing that their grandmother paid health taxes for 81 years for Canadian health care.

In the court of legal opinion, the province is correct. We don’t pay for Canadian health care; we pay for provincial health care, and if someone showed up from another province and took a placement our relative needed, we’d be upset.

I suspect this national coverage of this Calgary case is intended to drive that public opinion to overwhelm the legal one, but I doubt it will be successful.

If nothing else, it has reminded us all not to take our health care rights for granted and to be smarter in learning what it means to bring our elderly family closer to us.

Graham Hookey writes on education, parenting and eldercare.