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Shortage of seniors beds splitting up families

The story of senior couples being separated because of lack of beds in care facilities is all too common, said one senior’s advocate.

Brenda Corney, Friends of Medicare Red Deer chapter chair, said Friday there is a significant shortage of seniors beds in the Red Deer area and it’s splitting up families and couples.

“It is quite a frequent occurrence,” said Corney. “It’s not just husbands and wives that get separated, but people get separated from their family.”

Safety is a large issue when it comes to moving people into different situations, says Alberta Health Services.

“There are times, specifically when there is an immediate crisis or a large change in circumstance for a family that from a safety perspective we have to work with whatever is available and that availability isn’t always in the community of choice or their home community,” said Kerry Bales, AHS Central Zone chief zone officer.

“Being outside of their preferred community might not be the ideal circumstance by any stretch of the imagination, but it might be the safest thing available at that moment.”

Bales used the example of a dementia patient at home without supervision or supports, being at risk of leaving their home and doing something unsafe.

“That would be an example of having to balance a preferred community and actually being able to provide a space immediately in a community that might not be their first choice,” said Bales. “At least in this other community they’re in a secured environment.”

The system puts seniors who need care into the first available bed within a certain radius of their home. However, Corney points out it is a wide radius that can send a senior about an hour away, up to 80 kms away from their homes and families.

“Then you have to wait there for your preferred place for however long that takes,” said Corney. “Then your family has to travel.

“It makes it very difficult to be available for the parent for the support they need.”

An Advocate story Friday told how a Red Deer couple have been separated. Therese Beauchamp, 90, now has to ride in a car more than an hour to see her husband, Gerald, 86, who has been put in a Stettler senior’s care facility far away from his wife of 62 years.

Gerald is dealing with escalating dementia and mobility issues. He has been in Stettler two weeks. It is the longest the couple have been away from each other, said daughter Louise White-Gibbs.

Corney said she hears stories all the time of couples split up because one needs a senior’s care bed and has to wait it out at a facility far away until one close to home becomes available.

“If your mother needed you and she was in Stettler, how often would you be able to get there?” asked Corney.

“If she was confused and had anxiety about things and called in a panic attack, how would you get to Stettler? How would you deal with it?”

Bales said the demand for continuing care spaces ebbs and flows throughout the year and it is not predictable how long someone would have to wait outside of their home community for an opening.

“The problem is there is not enough beds in the Red Deer area for the amount of long-term care we need,” said Corney.

She said there are assisted living beds, which are available for a price. But there just aren’t enough long-term care or dementia beds for seniors.

Bales said AHS has been adding beds in the Central Zone and in Red Deer over the past few years. But the challenges are there is an aging population and the demand for those beds keep increasing.

“We certainly do our best to make sure people have their first placement choices as far as the community they’d like to be in,” said Bales. “We absolutely do our best to make sure people aren’t separated from their family.”

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