Alberta government’s ‘learning situation’ is far from being over

The premier came to a dinner held in his honour in Red Deer on Oct. 14 and he told media that the staffing shortage at Extendicare Michener Hill “is a learning situation.”

He then placed the blame on the appointed body, Alberta Health Services, which he said, “has the responsibility. I’m sure they’re going to learn from it.”

Questions about continuing care continued at the dinner, apparently, when Stelmach was asked by someone in attendance about the province’s plans for senior care, because there didn’t seem to be a proper plan in place at Extendicare Michener Hill.

Board members of the Central Alberta Council on Aging have raised questions during the past years about this change over with the premier, our two MLAs, the minister for senior and community supports, the minister of health and wellness and the board member, vice president and staff of Alberta Health Services, Central Zone.

We reminded them of our previous experience when the patients in the Richard Parsons Wing of Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre were transferred to Bethany CollegeSide.

In that situation it also took many months for the new facility to operate at capacity and up to quality standards. Then as now, experienced staff were laid off, many with long-time service.

The new operators refused to transfer them to the new facility and their valuable experience was lost. The new owners unrealistically expected that experienced care staff would transfer to the new facility, accepting lower wages, and no union agreement.

A similar situation now prevails at Extendicare with similar results. These actions appear to be an attempt to cut cost at the expense of the patients and the workforce. It seems to be unnoticed or may even be approved by the Stelmach government.

Perhaps this whole unfortunate situation is really a learning situation for the premier and his cabinet colleagues. Perhaps they might learn that their faith in P3s (public-private partnerships) is misplaced.

The use and promotion by the Alberta government of P3s is accompanied by the loss of transparency and public accountability and downloading of cost to future generations, is unacceptable. The Alberta Government has never shown any comparisons or benefits of P3.

Our local example: The Public Private Partnership between Alberta Health and the Wellness and the former David Thompson Health Region and Extendicare, for the design, construction and operation of a “community of care” at Michener Hill in Red Deer was announced January, 2006.

It took several years to complete negotiations. The undisclosed conditions of sale of the Michener provincial lands, and the downloading of future mortgage payments on the property to Alberta taxpayers for this project, are serious reasons for our concern.

In public private partnerships proprietary conditions leave crucial information hidden and off the public record. They are contrary to the Stelmach and PC policy to remain debt free.

The lack of due diligence by the Alberta government to negotiate and deliver a functioning project on time is plain to see.

Now four years later the premier’s referral of the problem to Alberta Health Services should not allow him and his ministers to play the blame game, and avoid responsibility.

We believe this project is an opportunity for the premier, cabinet and caucus to learn another lesson: privatisation of health care does not work and it is the patients and their families who suffer.

Meanwhile around 40 patients are still in Valley Park Manor. They are being looked after by the combined staff from the two Red Deer nursing homes, who had their layoff notices temporarily suspended.

Sixty beds are vacant here. Our MLA Mary Anne Jablonski, who is also minister for seniors and community supports, now has an opportunity to reduce the waitlist.

There are 60 empty beds and surplus staff available. These should be filled, since Extendicare will not take any more transfers. The people on the waitlists can and must be accommodated.

Sam Denhaan, president

Central Alberta Council on Aging