The cost of caring

Port Rexton family says govt. policy has forced them onto social assistance

Jonathan Parsons
Published on February 12, 2016

Rodney and Beth Miller, at their home on Monday. Rodney says the government’s home- care policy doesn’t make sense for people in their situation because it’s making him choose between work and social services in order to care for his terminally ill wife. Jonathan Parsons photo

Rodney Miller of Port Rexton just wants to be able to take care of his wife, Beth.

Beth was diagnosed 15 months ago and is now in stage-four lung cancer. She is in what is called the “end-of-life program”.

“She hasn’t got that much longer with us,” Miller told The Packet.

A home-care worker, provided through the Provincial Home Support Program, helps out for 20 hours a week.

Miller has nothing but praise for the home care worker, and local health care providers.

“The public health nurse and the social worker from Clarenville are the best in the world. They went over and above to help me — physically and mentally.”

However, the situation is made more stressful by financial worries for Miller.

Until recently he was getting unemployment insurance. Now that’s run out but he’s unable to go back to work because of Beth’s health. The 20 hours of home care does not allow him to leave the home to work and there are very few options in the area for him to apply for.

What frustrates Miller is that the provincial home care program does not allow him to be paid to be his wife’s caregiver.

He was told by social workers that spouses who live with their partner are not eligible to provide home care.

“Goodness gracious! That’s why we get married and have children — we live together in the same household,” said Miller.

According to the Department of Health and Community Services, spouses cannot be paid caregivers because they are expected to provide this type of care anyway, in their role as a husband or wife.

Other family members, such as sons or daughters, would be able to be paid, to provide care.

Rodney says he doesn’t understand the department’s policy.

“Right now I have to go on social assistance, which is degrading to me because I worked for 31 years and never been on social assistance, I don’t know what it’s about,” he said. Rodney previously worked as a manager in a Northwest Territories airport.

He says it doesn’t make sense.

“I would be the best provider for my wife; I know her the best.”

And it isn’t a matter of qualifications. Rodney is just as — or even more qualified — than anyone else who would normally fill the position.

“Me and Beth have been together 29 years, we got married again on our 25th anniversary, and we love one another. And if we got divorced, they could look at me as a home care worker and pay me? It’s so crazy.”

The situation is causing the Millers financial and emotional stress.

“Our income right now is next to nil and I have to watch somebody else get paid for the duties I could be getting paid for; instead I have to apply social services myself,” said Rodney.

Social services will only account for a very small amount of what they actually need to live in their own home.

“We’ve got no income coming in outside of Beth’s little bit of disability which will cover our light bill. So we can’t eat for a month.”

He says he battles with depression and their current financial situation combined with the cancer is hard for his mental health. But he isn’t just speaking out for their own needs — which are many — Miller wants to make sure others aren’t going through the same thing.

“It’s not just me. I know of four people in the Port Rexton area who are in the same boat I’m in … I’d like to speak on behalf of these victims … I think a little bit of compassion could be shown shared with the people that are dealing with cancer on every level.”

Miller says he is completely exasperated and has no other option but to go public with his plight.

“Since my wife took sick 15 months ago, I had not the gumption to do anything, only my main primary objective, take care of her and her best well being.

“But when you get shut down at the government level it is so degrading.”

He’s contacted both provincial and federal government looking for help, admittedly not a fan of looking for a handout, but they are left with little other option.

While he hopes his local MHA will help in the near future, he says promises of changes in funding aren’t doing much for them in the short term.

“We don’t need help tomorrow, we need it today,” said Rodney.

Rodney and Beth say they are considering leaving their home and moving out of province, to Nova Scotia, to live with their son and his family.

A GoFundMe account called “Beth’s medical fund” has been started by a family member to help them with their living costs.

Anyone who wishes to donate can go to

Twitter: @jejparsons