Red Deer residents listen to speakers at a Citizens’ Forum about the shortfalls in healthcare programs for seniors Wednesday night at the Golden Circle Senior Resource Centre. Robin Grant/Red Deer Express

Citizens’ forum discusses problems with healthcare programs for seniors

Need for universal pharmaceutical coverage and more capacity, staffing in local hospitals raised

The quality of healthcare for seniors in Alberta is not where it should be.

That was the main message from advocates and experts at a citizens’ forum hosted by Friends of Medicare and Public Interest Alberta on Wednesday night at the Golden Circle Senior Resource Centre.

Speakers at the event addressed many issues, such as the need for a universal pharmaceutical coverage program, expanded capacity and staffing in local hospitals and major improvements in the seniors’ care system.

Chair of the Seniors Task Force for Public Interest Alberta Terry Price said the goal is to get people talking and asking questions by giving them information about their healthcare services.

Right before the provincial election is an important time, she added, as the main issues political parties raise seem to focus only on the economy and energy sector. Public services, such as healthcare and education, should not be pushed to the sideline.

“It’s time to learn more and ask questions and to nudge, push and challenge the candidates to develop a better understanding of what’s really happening and what the impact of privatization has been,” she said. “That word, ‘privatization’, kept coming up because it is clearly a huge issue in the delivery of healthcare services at all levels.”

Bonnie Mand, a Red Deer pharmacist who owns the pharmacy Red Deer Remedy’sRX, talked about the need to keep pharmacy services local.

She takes issue with how once a senior moves into a long-term care facility, they can no longer get prescriptions from their own pharmacist, who often has been providing them with the service for decades. The medication comes from a corporate pharmacy in Edmonton or Calgary and the cost skyrockets, she said.

“If you look at the monthly cost at their own pharmacy in the community and then you look at the cost of moving to a facility, even though they are still in the same community, having those prescription medications come from Edmonton or Calgary costs over $1,200 more dollars per year. That adds up.”

Trudy Thomson, a lab technician who is currently the vice president of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta, said the best way to make practical changes to the healthcare system is to ask the people who work in it and those who use it.

Red Deer City Councillor Ken Johnston discussed the urgent need for a cardiac catheterization lab at the Red Deer hospital. He said his wife Isabelle suffered a major heart attack and was airlifted by STARS to Calgary. She died three and a half months later.

“Heart disease is, next to cancer, the leading acute care condition we face and our hospital is one of the busiest acute care hospitals in Alberta — not Central Alberta,” he said. “I met so many families on that ICU. So many husbands, so many wives, so many sisters and brothers, waiting for ground transportation, waiting for STARS while their hearts were dying because we couldn’t do it here.”

The lack of capacity and equipment puts pressure on the hospital staff as well, he added.

“We don’t send our police or firemen or ambulance people to crime scenes or fires with yesterday’s technology. What are we doing with our healthcare professionals in Red Deer? It’s a shame.”

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