Closing long-term care facilities makes no sense

“Access to a waiting list is not access to health care.” Those were the words of the Supreme Court of Canada in a 2005 decision that harshly scolded the Quebec government for failing to provide health care services in a timely manner.

It’s a statement that many families in Red Deer wish Premier Stelmach’s government would begin to take seriously. After all, there are 1,700 Albertans on a waiting list for long-term care. Central Alberta is home to 230 of those Albertans who have been forced to wait for long-term care, and more than 50 of them are in Red Deer.

Bearing these statistics in mind, one has to ask why Red Deer MLAs Mary-Anne Jablonski and Cal Dallas have been silent on their government’s plan to close the 216 long-term care beds at the Red Deer Nursing Home and Valley Park Manor.

It is true that another 220 long-term care beds will soon open at Extendicare’s Michener Hill Village, and that Alberta Health and Wellness and Alberta Seniors and Community Supports have provided nearly $10 million in grants to Extendicare for this project.

The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees supports the creation of new long-term care spaces, of course. But, with 230 seniors on a waiting list, we have to question how it makes any sense to close 216 long-term care beds at Valley Park Manor and Red Deer Nursing Home.

When you do the math, Michener Hill will only add four new long-term care beds in return for this massive, $10 million government investment. It’s no wonder so many Albertans believe our health care system is being mismanaged.

Red Deer MLA and Seniors Minister Mary-Anne Jablonski will reply to this column next week. I’ll save you some time and sum up the arguments she will likely make, as we’ve heard them elsewhere already. She will state that Michener Hill will have 280 total beds, that the facility is more modern and spacious, and that Red Deer Nursing Home and Valley Park Manor are simply too old to repair and not appropriate settings to provide care in. Such arguments are misleading.

There is no doubt that Michener Hill will be more attractive and modern than Valley Park Manor and the Red Deer Nursing Home, and AUPE agrees that seniors deserve improved accommodations. At the same time, we would encourage Ms. Jablonski to ask the 230 Central Alberta seniors on a waiting list for a long-term care space whether they would prefer medical care in an older building or no care at all.

The statement that Michener Hill will have 280 total beds is true. But pay careful attention to what kind of beds those are; only 220 will be dedicated to long-term care. As mentioned before, this only amounts to four new long-term care beds – a totally inadequate response to the massive waiting lists that exist today. Make no mistake, if you’re on a waiting list for long-term care, the other 60 “supportive living” beds are of no help to you.

Finally, there is the argument that Valley Park Manor and Red Deer Nursing Home are simply too old to be repaired (insinuating that anyone who opposes the demolition of these nursing homes is condemning seniors to substandard care).

Well, look around your city and count the number of neighbourhoods and homes that were built in the 1960s. By the government’s logic those of us who continue to occupy these rickety structures and are not already bulldozing our lots are endangering our very lives and financial well-being.

Luckily Albertans are gifted with more common sense than that. About 130 people have sent letters to Ms. Jablonski through the web site. Nearly 3,000 people in Red Deer have signed our petition to oppose the closing of these nursing homes.

People understand and agree with the simple goal of our campaign, which is to preserve and improve long-term care spaces for Alberta seniors. With Michener Hill opening this fall, the government has an opportunity to wipe out waiting lists for long-term care, simply by keeping Valley Park Manor and Red Deer Nursing Home open. Surely that cannot be too much to ask for.

– Mark Wells works for the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees and the “Save our Seniors’ Homes” campaign. He was born in Bashaw and grew up in the Stettler region. The Express has invited Mary-Anne Jablonski, Red Deer North MLA and provincial seniors minister, to write a guest column next week on the pending closure of the City’s two long-term care facilities.