Seniors holding government accountable over long term care

  • Aug. 31, 2010 11:23 p.m.

The Board of Directors and members of the Central Alberta Council on Aging find it surprising that on the day of the second rally (June 24) to keep Valley Park and Red Deer Nursing homes in service, a letter to the editor by the Ministers Zwozdesky and Jablonski appeared in a Red Deer newspaper.

It contained the usual reports of the millions of dollars spent by Alberta Government on seniors’ accommodation of all kinds, except Long Term Care. This kind of reporting without any detail has been used by Alberta government over the years, while requests for transparency and accountability continue to be ignored.

Their nostalgic opening sentence about Valley Park and Red Deer Nursing homes looks very disingenuous when it is followed by the minister’s statement that these facilities are badly deteriorating.

They do not explain how functioning facilities long since paid for have been neglected and cast aside in favour of the new, privately owned and operated but publicly funded, “continuing care” village. This admission came from ministers of the Conservative government which has been in office over many years while all this is going on.

We believe that the Alberta government’s stewardship of seniors’ accommodations has been deliberately lacking while they pursue the ideologically driven privatization of nursing homes and seniors’ accommodation. Over the years we have continued to raise questions about transactions and contracts and value for money accounts which have remained hidden to this day. The reason for our concern has history behind it which bears repeating.

When the not-for-profit Bethany CollegeSide replaced the Dr. Richard Parsons Auxiliary Hospital, the transfer was very poorly done for the patient population and the existing staff.

We believe that the announced transfer to Extendicare has strong potential for the same problems. The proposed segregation into lower levels of care, (with the resulting changes in cost to patients that has never been explained), and the long term care wait list, are reasons for concern which are easy to understand. We have grave concerns for the health care portion of long term care under the control of Alberta Health Services.

The Alberta Auditor General’s 2005 report and the subsequent MLA taskforce recorded numerous deficiencies, and recommended that changes be made promptly. While there has been progress in the “room and board” portion of Long Term Care, and all care accommodations must now be licensed and inspected, it will take time until that process is in place and reported at all facilities for the public to see.

The health care portion of long term care is still an unknown. Only the Health Facilities Review Committee makes periodic visits; and its members do not report on the compliance of the 2007 Long Term Care Standards established by Health and Wellness. Alberta Health Services makes no reports available to the public on the health care in continuing care.

There are accommodation options for seniors, but the access to lower cost accommodation is limited to people with low enough incomes to receive Alberta seniors benefits. For those with no means some mention has been made about affordable rents.

Millions of dollars in grants are given to private providers in the hope that they will provide accommodation at “ten percent below going rate”. What is meant by the going rate and who sets it remains unclear, and the accountability of that program has not been revealed.

Others, with means will have choices regarding where they live as they age. However, those facilities due to the high cost of expensive services have high vacancy rates and some have recently faced financial difficulties.

Keep Valley Park and Red Deer Nursing homes in service, at least until we see the quality and affordability of Michener Hill Village and these other new facilities.

Sam Denhaan, President

Central Alberta Council on Aging