Tag Archives: affordability

Meet The Bloggers – Poverty and Health

Canada takes  a lot of pride in its publicly funded health care – as we should! To remind ourselves how good we have it in Canada when it comes to health care, all we need to do is take a look at the other side of the border. However, we are also well aware that the system is not perfect, especially for those of us, who don’t fall under a certain social status and income bracket. We asked our bloggers about their experiences with health care and the affordability of it:

Ellen

Have you, or someone you know been faced with an illness that impacted your/their financial security?  Can you share?

Labour Day weekend marks the 4th anniversary of my partner’s lymphoma diagnosis. It took me awhile to connect that the fear and sadness I feel at the steamy end of summer is a remnant of that personal trauma. My partner is alive and thriving today, but there is emotional scar tissue. A life-threatening illness gives rise to many distressful thoughts, and one of them is the very real fear of financial ruin. My work for the past eight years has been a chaotic and precarious jumble of freelance and contract gigs, with times of frenetic gain and times of anxious sand scratching. Luckily (and it is very much luck, no matter the skill, intelligence, or effort of the employed), my partner has a good job—a union protected job—that has, thankfully, a disability package. He was off sick for two years. Two years. Like everyone faced with crisis, we cut our spending and lived in stasis. I work from a home office, so this allowed me to simultaneously act as his caregiver. His benefits allowed him to recover fully before returning to work. And, I should mention this, upon diagnosis, when things seemed so dark and dire and he didn’t have the strength to walk stairs or perform most of the functions of daily life, his colleagues at work collected cash from their own pockets and gave it to us. His union matched the funds. I cannot tell you how much that helped pay for all the out of pocket incidentals of illness: the groceries, the liquid food replacements he needed to survive, gasoline, and parking…endless expensive hospital parking. He also has a good drug benefit plan, but despite this, one of his drugs cost a whopping $1,600—far beyond what his benefits covered. Luckily (there’s that word again), a caring hospital pharmacist found a charity that paid for what wasn’t covered. I know my partner is alive today because of modern science and our health care system. I also know that without socialized health care, and the good benefits of a good job, we would be homeless—likely living with family. doctor-840127_1920There is no way most people can save for two years of illness or emerge financially unscathed thereafter. So, I am very grateful that my worst fears (one of them being the death of my partner) were not realized. I am also aware that many—too many—Canadians are not so lucky. I know many people who work, exhausted and in pain, while receiving treatment (or, work as long as they can before their bodies just can’t do it anymore). I know those who return to work before they have fully recovered. And I know those who, already living marginally, have their spirits and meagre finances further crushed by the illnesses of poverty. My mother-in-law’s gravestone (if she had one) might well say: “She died of poverty”. Again, this is even with our much vaunted medicare. My sister, who lives in Australia, emerged $10,000 in debt after surgery for ovarian cancer in that country. And that is with healthy private insurance! I know what happened in the past in our country to people who had no means to pay for treatment. I am the daughter of parents who each lost a parent early to sickness and disease and I know how this materially changed their lives. We have a solid enough health system, but our methods of materially caring for the sick and dying and their dependents, fall short.

Have you experienced a health care issue, that was impacted by whether you had, or did not have the means to afford treatment?  Can you share?

Dental care is definitely one of those things you don’t pay for if you don’t have the money. Early in my career, I worked for several companies that did not offer benefits packages. The pay was also shamefully low, so things like regular dental care and eyeglass replacements were out of the question (also…paying for OHIP premiums in the “old days” was very difficult on a low salary and I often took my chances not paying). One of my early goals was to get a job with benefits. It seems so trivial to some, but it meant so much to me. I cracked a tooth (molar) once and waited until I had  secured a job with dental benefits to get it looked at. My dentist sent me to a specialist who told me I would have to pay $500 upfront for the required work. I went home on the verge of tears thinking I couldn’t afford that tooth; I couldn’t afford teeth! I managed to find another dentist who would do the work to my defined benefits schedule and would allow me to pay in installments. The thing is, even with benefits, you often have to pay for services up front. If you can’t afford $130, or can’t fit it on your already maxed-out credit (as is the reality for many who live hand-to-mouth), you will do without, which just adds to your physical (and mental) health debt.

In your opinion, what needs to change so that quality health care is available and affordable to everyone no matter what their income?

I think we have come a long way in the past 50 years. We have universal health care which we all pay for; we have quality basic health care. I’ve had surgery (and at the old, dismal, filthy St. Catharines General, with its Crimean war hospital theatre-like atmosphere) and the surgical skill (and some, if not all of the aftercare) was excellent. And I didn’t get a bill! I’ve spent a lot of time at Ontario hospitals in the last six years, and I’ve accessed (for loved ones) and witnessed excellent home health care provided through local Community Care Access Centres. I can’t say enough about the skill and caring of these service providers. We are also fortunate to have excellent community health centres in Niagara such as Quest, Bridges, etc. (a big shout out) that provide good primary care and a whole lot more, as well as advocacy on health equity issues and programs. I think that is where a lot of the change and innovation in health care originates — from direct service providers who believe in improving health by changing the system, tearing down barriers, or mitigating social inequality. They, along with poverty action groups, have the “broader view” that includes pressing for a living wage, since good health has everything to do with good, or even adequate income. Of course, within the existing systems, services such as health navigators at hospitals and clinics, can make a huge difference in terms of accessing the required and appropriate care. Knowing where to go for services (particularly no or low cost ones) and how to advocate for your health (mental and physical) or the health of someone else, can change outcomes.

Marilyn

Have you, or someone you know been faced with an illness that impacted your/their financial security?  Can you share?

I had major surgery almost 10 years ago that almost killed me. There were severe complications that have a direct link to the health problems that continue to this day. I had to learn to accept my limitations and work within them in order to stay healthy. I haven’t been able to work full-time since I had that surgery. My whole world as I knew it came crashing down and I was forced to re-evaluate my priorities.

Aside from the physical-side of the impact of poverty on health – in your opinion what psychological impact do you feel there is?

It chips away at your self-confidence. Chronic pain & illness can lead to isolation which can develop into clinical depression. It messes with your self-image. It’s very scary to be financially dependent on someone else. Society is very judgmental and places a value on people based on their income or ability to work.Marilyn

Have you experienced a health care issue, that was impacted by whether you had, or did not have the means to afford treatment?  Can you share?

I feel very fortunate to have additional medical insurance through my husband’s employee benefits. There are many treatments and medications that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford. This would have a negative effect on the quality of life I would have.

With prevention top of mind, what preventative health tip would you like to share?

Stay active. Engage in low-impact activities like gardening, walking and aquatic exercise at least 30 minutes a day. Regular exercise improves sleep, controls weight, has a positive affect on mood and stimulates creativity.

In your opinion, what needs to change so that quality health care is available and affordable to everyone no matter what their income?

I honestly don’t know the solution to this very serious problem but I do know that it needs to be addressed by the government. If people don’t have access to proper healthcare now the government ends up paying anyway through things like hospitalization, Long Term Care facilities, disability, welfare, etc. There needs to be a more pro-active approach to caring for people to prevent the rapid decline of health and quality of life before it happens.

Allison

Have you, or someone you know been faced with an illness that impacted your/their financial security?  Can you share?

My father went on sick leave from work numerous times due to arthritis that left him unable to perform not only his work duties, but also other basic tasks around the home. In 2012 he suffered a stroke that extended his leave to over two years, and by the time he returned to work he experienced a culture shock from not only having to keep up with new developments, but from being treated differently by his peers. His sick leaves from work impacted his finances greatly since the money he received from work while on leave was not sufficient to cover the bills, and so he resorted to using a line of credit to support us. When he went on another sick leave, his inability to leave the house left him unable to get a doctor’s note his work required in order for him to remain employed. He was then fired by his employer of over 20 years. The last conversation I had with him was terrifying, as he had essentially lost all hope to get better, and would avoid answering my questions about whether or not this meant he was going to go on ODSP or OW. When he passed away two weeks after that, we learned that he was in severe overdraft and debt. Seeing what can happen to someone when they experience chronic health problems is something I will never forget, and exposed me to the many problems that exist both socially and systemically. There is simply not enough support for people experiencing chronic illness and other health problems.

Do you know of a program or agency that helps eliminate a barrier to health care for those living in poverty?  Give them a shout out.

I have heard many wonderful things about Quest Community Health Centre in St. Catharines. Their questpriority populations include people experiencing homelessness, mental health and addiction issues, and many others who are in need of a supportive, nonjudgmental environment.

Irene

Do you know of a program or agency that helps eliminate a barrier to health care for those living in poverty?  Give them a shout out.

In the last five years I have lost  my own family doctor of 25 yrs. I have been in extremely good health all of my life. I saw my doctor for physical check ups only. Through having to find a clinic to replace my family doctor, I found Quest Community Health Centre 145 Queenston St., Suite 100, St. Catharines, ON  L2R 2Z9.

This is a centre that provided health care professionals and programs that were inclusive to everyone. There have been no barriers. I was treated as an individual. Poverty was not a barrier to receive health care. The staff treat every person with compassion and empathy, no matter what their circumstances in life are or have been.

The Dental Program provides dental care for clients who cannot afford to see see a dentist because of cost. This program provides dental care and cleaning on a regular basis by professionals who donate their time. Their programs such as Road 2 Empowerment, a program to better and more efficiently advocate was immensely beneficial.

Living in Poverty means consistently advocating for our rights.

Aside from the physical-side of the impact of poverty on health – in your opinion what psychological impact do you feel there is?

LIrene2iving in Poverty creates health issues that I have never had  due to poor nutrition and the constant worry of not having food creates a fear that you may go hungry.  There is also the underlying fear that being homeless can happen to you again. Every ordinary situation becomes a crisis. This leads to stress and anxiety.

Even though I had the assurance that I had access to food despite that it had no nutritional value most of the time I was faced with the reality that if I did not have the means to get there, I would go hungry.

This fear is constant. It impacts decisions you make, relationships you have and too many times we isolate because the reality of poverty hits us so hard, we become immobile.

The mental strain on every aspect of our lives becomes exhausting. Although I am in a better situation, Poverty has taken a toll on my mental well being. There are still days, sometimes weeks that my entire system shuts down, mentally and physically. Poverty has left a scar that will remain with me.

 

If Only Our Earnings Matched Our High Rental Market…

“Hot enough for ya?” That’s the greeting of the day (week…month) as I write this in mid-July. It’s as common a salutation as “how ya doing?” or “how’s it going?” during southern Ontario heatwaves. As the weather roasts us, I count myself lucky. My home is at least partially air conditioned. And I can afford the hydro bill that will come at the end of the month. Not so for many other people who live in this region and this province. I think about that as, sweat rolling off the end of my nose, I take my daily walk through my mixed-income residential neighbourhood. I think about how, 20-some years ago I accepted a job, moved to St. Catharines, and attempted to find an apartment I could afford on my income. It was a hard search. Back then, the vacancy rate was hovering around one percent. It was slim pickings for any apartment, let alone an affordable one. I found decent digs in an older converted building. It was oddly early to mid-century in set up and accoutrements. The refrigerator was vintage, much like the rounded corner International Harvester one that was a fixture of my parents’ kitchen when I was a child. There was no shower (just a tub). The bathroom was clearly an afterthought. But it was clean, with no bugs. It was also safe, warm enough in the winter, and not quite roasting in the summer. The landlord was decent as well and didn’t treat his tenants like necessary coal mining cogs in his Freedom 55 retirement plan. It was the first of five St. Catharines apartments (some better than others) I lived in before my partner and I were lucky enough to buy a house.

When we left our last, beloved apartment (converted servant’s quarters), rent had inched its way into “it’s better to own” territory and some dignified houses could be found well below the $100,000 mark. This was less than 15 years ago. Now, houses on my street are becoming out of reach for first-time buyers. I know, I know…I should think of that as a good thing. I mean, my “investment” is growing, right? Or so the rhetoric goes. But I can’t think of a home, a place to live, as just a financial investment.

Housing as a Right

I’m a naturally happy person, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t look at things with a critical eye. Housing is one of those things we should all look at critically. I happen to think housing is a right. Decent, affordable housing should be much like water—it shouldn’t be owned by only a few, and it shouldn’t be controlled by the free market alone. That’s why I’m skeptical about all the hype surrounding the 416’s (and outlying 905) interest in Niagara real estate. It’s great for property values and real estate agents, property management companies, and people who want to sell their houses and get out of Dodge or shift to the nursing home. But what about everyone else? Who else benefits? Having invested my life in Niagara for a quarter century, I don’t want to see it turned into a bedroom community for commuters with good jobs in the Big Smoke and retirees from Oakville eager to sell their family homes and spend their golden years on much more affordable golf links. Because that will mean we have given up on having a truly thriving community and we’ve given over to strict market interest. We already rely on the lower paid service industry for too many of our jobs. In the post-manufacturing economy, too many people here juggle two and three part-time jobs just to put a roof over their heads. You need a master’s degree to get a toe-hold on a $15 an hour, no benefits temporary contract position. I joke, but I don’t joke.house, key

How About an Employment Boom?

I would prefer if the real estate boom was an employment and living wage jobs boom, so that the people already living here in substandard housing—you know, those languishing on subsidized housing wait lists, could have a chance at good jobs that allowed them to afford good market rental housing, or even perhaps owning their own homes someday. The problem with a high rent to income ratio community (which is much of St. Catharines/Niagara and has been for many years) experiencing a housing boom is that the people on the margins— to be blunt, the folks living in overpriced holes—never benefit. That’s right…never benefit. Yes, there is shelter and transitional housing (clearly, the YWCA is a leader here), and the Region and the city of St. Catharines are putting our money and their mouths into supporting social housing and affordable housing. It’s about time. I can’t swing a cat without hitting a new “student housing” venture. Fantastic! Make some money on Brock’s strategic foreign student education futures plan! And the market is blossoming with downtown area condos. Good. We need more mixed housing to enliven the heart. But still, a pleasant one-bedroom apartment in a building that does not need major repairs for $750-800 is considered a deal in St. Catharines. A deal. Really? Do you know how long it takes a minimum-wage earner to make $750?

Yay! We’re on a Top Ten List?

Just last week, Niagara This Week carried a story on St. Catharines claiming 10th spot on the most expensive rental markets in Canada list (compiled by PadMapper, a national apartment search platform). We finally made a top ten list and it’s for high rents! Not for stable, well-paying jobs. Not for pretty trees and gardens (although that’s one of our official selling points). Not for outstanding achievement in the field of excellence (to quote The Simpsons). But for the 10th most expensive rental market. Apparently, the median rent for a one bedroom in St. Catharines is $910, and $1,130 for a two bedroom. I imagine that doesn’t come as a shock to renters. I also imagine some landlords (I said some, not all) might look at that and think “hmm…looks like I’ve got room to move up.”

Capture

So, What’s Changed?

The thing is, a high rental market in St. Catharines really isn’t news. It’s more like a confirmation of a fact (anecdotal at the time) that I learned many, many years ago. This place, this beautiful place with lovely people and stunning geography, is hard to earn a living in, but expensive to live in. And, I hate to sound like a Debbie Downer here, but the much lusted after Go Service to Niagara is not likely to change that situation. It may ease the congestion on the QEW, make things all nicey nicey for Burlington and Brampton peeps who want to buy pretty homes in lovely ‘ole still-small-town-like Grimsby. (I’m practically wiping the snot on my sleeve as I write that.) It may even raise my property value in St. Catharines. But it is not likely to up my income. And therein lies part of the rub. One of these things is not like the others. Riddle me this: why oh why is St. Catharines squashing high rental market shoulders with Toronto, Victoria, Calgary, and Ottawa? And how can we fix this?