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Poverty and medical plight of seniors revealed

Resource type: News

The Royal Gazette (Bermuda) |

Original Source

By Robyn Skinner

Thirty-five percent of seniors in Bermuda are living below the poverty line, according to results of the Senior’s Test for Ageing and Trends (STATS) survey that was released yesterday.

In the survey, which was launched in November last year by the Department of Statistics, Age Concern, the Ministry of Social Rehabilitation and the National Office for the Seniors and Physically Challenged, they found that 35 percent of the Island’s seniors make under $25,000 a year.

That’s at least $2,000 less than the poverty line, which was set at incomes of $27,000 or less for one-person income households by Government earlier this year.

The surveyors of the STATS study, which is the first to be done by Bermudians for Bermudians, however, indicate the income numbers should be muted by the fact that many seniors own their homes.

In the study they state that: “While these income levels may seem low, this does not mean that Bermuda’s seniors are living at or below the poverty level.

“As we shall learn in other sections some 54 percent of seniors owned their own home outright. In addition just six percent report that they had to sacrifice food in order to pay a bill and nearly three-quarters (73 percent) stated that they could afford all of the health services that they needed.”

The study also found that 25 percent of seniors had incomes between $25,000 and $50,000 while 21 percent made more than $50,000 a year and the average income was $37,500.

And it showed that 78 percent of the seniors population have a medical condition, 80 percent are on medication because of that condition and yet only 44 percent are satisfied or very satisfied with the health care system. For more statistics see the side panel.

In the House of Assembly yesterday, Minister of Social Rehabilitation Dale Butler said the survey was helpful but the income levels were something to be concerned about.

He said: “The survey indicates that although for the most part seniors are doing well, there are some very real issues facing them.

“Perhaps of most concern is the high number (78 percent) that are suffering from a medical condition and a similar number (80 percent) who are on medication as a result of that condition.

“Of equal concern is the 36 percent of seniors who are living on an annual income of less than $25,000. These are the seniors who need our assistance the most.”

Five hundred and eight households participated in the study and 695 eligible seniors in those homes were interviewed.

Among those surveyed, they felt that medical insurance and affordable door-to-door transportation access needed to be provided by the Government.

Providing comprehensive medical coverage was promised by Government by next year in the form of FutureCare and according to Mr. Butler a transportation plan will also be introduced in the new year.

Claudette Fleming, the Executive Director of Age Concern, raised further recommendations in the report such as a possibility of reverse mortgages to help seniors pay for long-term care and ensuring the subsidised transportation cost no more than $4.

Other issues she said were raised in the study include that the majority of seniors expect their children to care for them when they can no longer provide for themselves.

This she said could cause problems when families are also struggling with raising their children and affording college education.

She added: “Age Concern will do its part to meet the needs of seniors in a manner consistent with its mission and its role in this sector.

“Age Concern will also work to support the National Office for Seniors and the Physically Challenged to ensure that the STATS report is disseminated and presented to as many public and non-governmental organisations as possible.”

And Dr. Melvin Dickinson, the Manager of the National Office for Seniors and the Physically Challenged said he hoped the findings would help deliver appropriate services.

“With this statistical information we intend to review the findings with a view to ensure that the services that are provided are adequate, affordable and accessible.

“We also intend to work closely with groups and entities that aim to support the very important role carried out by the caregivers by way of improved legislation and policy as it applies to the continuum of care for our seniors.”

However, Shadow Health Minister Louise Jackson said Minister Butler was focusing on the positive rather than trying to fully understand the plight of seniors.

She pointed to the fact that the report states that “nearly half” of seniors were satisfied with medical care, while the flip side is that in fact more than half are not satisfied.

She said: “The key to focusing on these seniors is to understand their plight, so that dialogue and work can be directed toward solutions.

“That is what a caring Government should be about: Bringing the sharpest focus to bear on people who need help.

“To do that you need to make sure the public understands the problem, and in that regard this morning’s statement by the minister is a missed opportunity.”

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poverty, senior citizens, Senior's Test for Ageing and Trends, STATS