Compassion leave extension requires B.C.

The federal Employment Insurance compassionate care benefit has been increased

Compassion is being extended for families caring for a loved one in their final weeks, but the province needs to get on board to make it possible.

The federal Employment Insurance compassionate care benefit has been increased to allow claimants to collect up to 26 weeks of benefits to care for a dying loved one, up from the previous six weeks. Also, the period during which benefits can be taken is expanded from 26 weeks to 52 weeks.

“This is going to free up a lot of individuals to be spending more time with a loved one,” said Ruth Edwards, North Okanagan Hospice Society executive director.

“It’s wonderful, we really welcome that kind of thought process and support for Canadian families.”

While this federal enhancement is applauded, the provinces still need to get on board.

“The difficulty is the B.C. government hasn’t responded,” said Edwards, as B.C. government employment standards currently only allow for eight weeks.

“That’s where the misalignment is now. The provinces need to catch up.”

Edwards is hopeful they will do so immediately, in order to offer more families this gift.

“We only have the one time to get it right,” she said.

“It’s really something that you’re not going to get a second chance at.”

Benefits, which can be shared between family members, provide temporary income support to eligible individuals who must be away from work to care for a gravely ill family member at risk of death.

Considering the number of elderly residents in the North Okanagan, Edwards says the change will be a positive move to better care and more compassionate care.

“In this community a lot of people have retired here and their families aren’t here,” she said of those with loved ones back east. “It makes that level of care really difficult if they have to travel.”

With just a six-week leave, it almost wasn’t worth it for families to jump through all the hoops necessary to obtain the benefits.

“The first two weeks are going to be a waiting period,” said Edwards of before income is received.

“And that six weeks was per person who was dying, not per family member. The feasibility of it was difficult. It was not an easy process.”

There’s also the unknown of when someone might need the care the most.

“If you used up your six weeks and Bob was still OK, you’re hooped,” said Edwards.

Having a loved-one looked after by family at home could also help the health care system.

“Perhaps fewer admissions to emergency,” said Edwards.

“I believe if people are better supported they do better in their own homes.”

Vernon-Monashee MLA Eric Foster wasn’t aware of the issue but is looking into it.

Eligibility for compassionate care benefits remain the same, including the requirement for a medical certificate signed by a doctor attesting to the family member’s condition.

It is estimated that up to 6,900 claimants per year could benefit from the enhanced measure, which is in effect as of January 2016.

In 2013/14, program costs for the current compassionate care benefit amounted to $12 million.

An additional $37 million is being added annually to extend the duration of the compassionate care benefit over and above the current program costs.