About 600 more people will be eligible for the provincial caregivers benefit under an expanded program announced Tuesday.
The $400 monthly benefit helps lower-income Nova Scotians with the cost of taking care of family members with physical or cognitive impairment,serious behavioural problems and other challenges.
Until now, only caregivers with family members considered “very high” on the needs scale were eligible. Now those with less serious challenges, but still with “high” care needs, also will be eligible.
Those who believe their family members fit the expanded threshold are encouraged to apply for the benefit and an assessment will be done, said Susan Stevens, senior director of continuing care with the Nova Scotia Health Authority, at a news conference Tuesday in Halifax announcing the program expansion.
Caregivers previously denied the benefit under the old criteria will be contacted to see if they now qualify, Stevens said.
“We have care co-ordinators across the province who are licensed health-care professionals that will be conducting the assessments,” Stevens said. “When a person calls in, our intake workers would ask them some questions to get a sense of their care needs, their impairment and whether they potentially qualify for the program, and then they’d pass it along to the care co-ordinator.”
There are currently 1,979 caregivers enrolled in the $10.2-million program. The benefit is available only to individual caregivers with a net annual income of $22,125 or less. If married or common law, a total net household income of $37,209 or less is needed to qualify.
Angus Campbell, the executive director of Caregivers Nova Scotia, welcomed the eligibility expansion.
“These (benefits) are for lower income Nova Scotians and it does make a difference,” Campbell said at the news conference. “I know that when I was a caregiver, I had to give up my job — $400 would have made a huge difference.”
Campbell took care of his partner, Paul, for more than a year beginning in January 2006 after Paul developed paralysis from tubercular meningitis, a complication of an HIV infection.
“We lived in Halifax in a set of flats on NorthStreet,” Campbell recounted in an interview Tuesday afternoon. “Thank god we had that investment. I lost my job because we didn’t have the protections . . . in those days. We didn’t have this provincial benefit or the federal (programs).”
Campbell said he was the only person Paul recognized as a result of delirium from the meningitis.
“It was very challenging,” Campbell said. “I’d just recently moved here (from B.C.) with Paul. . . . We went through all my savings with the exception of lockedin savings.”
Caregivers Nova Scotia, which provides free programs, services, information and advocacy for family and friend caregivers, has heard from many people who didn’t qualify for the previous program.
“That’s why I really agree with them opening up the pool for more people,” Campbell said, noting it’s particularly helpful that the $4,800 annual benefit is taxfree.
Seniors Minister Leo Glavine, who announced the program expansion Tuesday, didn’t have a specific figure on how much the expansion will cost the province, saying that will be laid out in the provincial budget to be tabled March 20.
“Being the only province who directly provides this level of care for seniors in their home, I think it’s a very strong program, very valuable,” Glavine said. “And so embracing more people to be able to provide that kind of care is in line with our philosophy and practical application of . . . supporting people in their home first and foremost before a nursing home.”
This is the first phase of the caregiver benefits expansion, Glavine said. Next year, about 900 more caregivers whose family members have “moderate” needs will be accepted into the program.
The province’s continuing care line is 1-800-225-7225. For more information about the caregiver benefits program, go to https:// novascotia.ca/dhw/ccs.