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Group demands end to private senior care funding

The health-care crisis at Symphony Senior Living Aspen Ridge in Red Deer is a clear example of why the province needs to stop funding private operators to supply publicly funded seniors care, say public health-care supporters.

On Tuesday, Symphony announced its cancelling its contract to provide 49 care beds for Alberta Health Services over the coming year.

The announcement came the same day the Alberta Union of Public Employees announced its 130 health-care workers and staff at the facility would go on strike on Friday and Symphony issued a lockout for Friday.

AUPE is arguing for industry standard wages for health-care staff. But Symphony says wage parity with an AHS nursing home or hospital is unreasonable since it’s an independent living and assisted living facility.

“They are doing what’s best for business. That’s why business shouldn’t be involved in long-term care,” said Brenda Corney, chairperson of Friends of Medicare, Red Deer Chapter, on Thursday.

“If we’re going to have privatized long-term care, the profit has to come out of either lower wages for their workers or decreased services for people. The profits have to come from somewhere.”

Meanwhile, Red Deer seniors and their families are the ones who suffer, she said.

“Where are we going to find beds for 49 more people? The system is already taxed. We’re going to become more and more backed up,” Corney said.

NDP leader Brian Mason said seniors care isn’t keeping up with demand because the Alison Redford Progressive Conservative government is not properly supporting seniors care and is using the wrong model to deliver it.

“There is a train bearing down on us all. Most of us are going to end up in some sort of long-term care. It’s when people actually need a lot of nursing care, and the government seems oblivious,” Mason said.

“(Symphony) is clear evidence that the government’s system of providing formula funding for private operators to provide long-term care just doesn’t work. Moving away from subsidizing the private model towards a fully public system for long-term care is in our view the right way to go.”

Kerry Bales, AHS Central Zone Senior Vice-President, said Alberta Health Services will be re-examining its bed capacity to address the coming changes at Symphony.

“What we’re going to end up doing is going back to look at what options we have either in the short term or longer term building plans to re-establish that lost capacity,” Bales said.

But there are facilities opening elsewhere in Central Zone that will take the pressure off Red Deer, he said.

In February, expansion of a seniors facility in Lacombe will add 88 supportive living beds to the community.

In July, another new facility in Stettler will add 88 supportive living beds. AHS plans to decommission 39 of the 89 beds at the existing continuing care centre which will leave Stettler with a total of 49 new beds.

In May, a new facility will bring 30 supportive living beds to Bashaw. Twenty-five continuing care beds at Bashaw Health Care Centre will also move to the new facility.

“Just because those beds are coming on board and they’re outside Red Deer it’s not necessarily implying that we’re looking to necessarily move all folks out of town. What that does often is free up demand in Red Deer so that it actually creates opportunity locally.”

The 100-bed Covenant Health facility, where residents won’t have to move to get more care, is also expected to open in Red Deer by the end of the year.

These new facilities in Lacombe, Stettler, Bashaw and Red Deer are all privately operated and publicly funded.

Bales said there is no need to worry that what happened at Symphony would happen again, for example in Bashaw.

“I think circumstances are always unique amongst providers and I would characterize the circumstances in Red Deer as quite unique.”



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