FOM:Elder care in Alberta should not be an industry

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Yesterday’s media report on the death of an Alberta senior residing in a for-profit seniors’ facility served as a harrowing example of the real life consequences of the political ideology and short-sighted policy decisions that have shaped Alberta’s continuing care system. “Alberta’s continuing care system is an area that has seen aggressive privatization that has resulted in serious consequences for our seniors,” says Sandra Azocar, executive director of Friends of Medicare. “We have turned our elder care system into an industry that treats residents as consumers, rather than people deserving of timely and quality care.”

The United Conservative Party platform made clear that our government has no plans to change the role of the profit-driven market that provides seniors care in this province. The platform indicated that: “We will Make Life Better for Seniors and their families by using the Affordable Supportive Living Initiative (ASLI) to build the long-term care beds we need, encouraging more home care options, and maintaining existing seniors’ benefits.”

This pledge was confirmed on July 9th, 2019, when Health Minister Shandro announced on Twitter, without media releases or formal statements, that ASLI will continue under the UCP government.

“The ASLI program allows the government to provide up to 50% of funding for construction costs, and additional operational costs to run these facilities. Tax payers do not own the buildings, and once the contracts expire, Albertans must opt to buy the building back at the market price,” indicates Azocar.

This capital incentive has served to establish a private, for-profit system where investors are ensured a high rate of return and a growing and fertile ground to continue to do business, at the expense of those who are vulnerable and require care. Now, the UCP is making a bad situation even worse with an austerity agenda that pushes for lower levels of health care services to seniors and others.

The Alberta Continuing Care strategy that was first introduced in the late 1990s created a system where transparency, accountability, and quality of care have been seriously compromised. Sadly, this is not the first instance in which our care system has failed one of Alberta’s seniors, and it will not be the last. This grim reality will continue unless we can find the political will to phase out private for-profit elder care, and to commit to expanding our public health care system to encompass continuing care services, including all residential and home-based forms of elder care.

Previous Parkland Institute studies have found that, using private companies to run seniors’ homes is a flawed policy. The 2013 study, From Bad to Worse: Residential elder care in Alberta, revealed that while private assisted living facilities received high return rates on investments, they provided a lower quality of care than public assisted living facilities. Researchers found that these facilities are understaffed by an average of 90 minutes per resident each day – that is an hour and a half of care missing every day for residents in for-profit care. In 2016, a follow up study revealed that when it comes to quality of care, ownership clearly matters. While all ownership types actually fall short of recommended care standards, the average public facility offered significantly more hours of care than other ownership models – nearly two weeks each year of additional hands-on care. 

Despite all of this, our province seems intent to continue to move in the wrong direction. Friends of Medicare calls on the government and Minister Shandro to deal with the ongoing serious consequences that short staffing levels and inadequate training has on the care of our seniors. If we are to begin to remedy our broken continuing care system and undo decades of short-sighted policy decisions fueled by political ideology, we need legislated staff-to-patient ratios to ensure quality care, and a significant increase of direct hours of care to meet recommended care standards of 4.1 hours per resident per day.

“We have a responsibility and a debt to those that have worked to make this province what it is today,” says Azocar. “Care for our elders should be based on best practice and the highest achievable standards of care, not on a market system that prioritizes cost-cutting, under-staffing and profit-making, while treating our elders as consumers.”

For more information contact:

Alyssa Pretty

Communications Officer

Friends of Medicare