P3 project sticks taxpayers with the bill

The premier came to a dinner held in his honour in Red Deer on Thursday and told media that the staffing shortage at Extendicare Michener Hill “is a learning situation.”

The premier came to a dinner held in his honour in Red Deer on Thursday and told media that the staffing shortage at Extendicare Michener Hill “is a learning situation.”

He then placed the blame on Alberta Health Services, which he said “has the responsibility. I’m sure they’re going to learn from it.”

Board members of the Central Alberta Council on Aging have raised questions in the past about this change with the premier, our two MLAs, the minister for Senior and Community Supports, the minister of Health and Wellness and the board member, vice-president and staff of Alberta Health Services, Central Zone.

We reminded them of our previous experience when the patients in the Richard Parsons Wing of Red Deer hospital were transferred to Bethany CollegeSide. In that situation, it also took many months for the new facility to operate at capacity and up to quality standards.

Then as now, experienced staff were laid off, many with longtime service. The new operators refused to transfer them to the new facility and their valuable experience was lost. The new owners unrealistically expected that experienced care staff would transfer to the new facility, accepting lower wages and no union agreement.

A similar situation now prevails at Extendicare with similar results. These actions appear to be an attempt to cut cost at the expense of the patients and the workforce. It seems to be unnoticed or may even be approved by the Ed Stelmach government.

Perhaps the premier and his cabinet colleagues might learn that their faith in P3s (public-private partnerships) is misplaced.

The use and promotion by the Alberta government of P3s is accompanied by the loss of transparency and public accountability and downloading of cost to future generations, it is unacceptable. The Alberta government has never shown any comparisons or benefits of P3.

Our local example: The public-private partnership between Alberta Health and the Wellness and the former David Thompson Health Region and Extendicare, for the design, construction and operation of a “community of care” at Michener Hill in Red Deer was announced in January 2006. It took several years to complete negotiations.

The undisclosed conditions of sale of the Michener provincial lands, and the downloading of future mortgage payments to Alberta taxpayers, are serious reasons for our concern.

In public-private partnerships, proprietary conditions leave crucial information hidden and off the public record. They are contrary to the Stelmach and PC policy to remain debt-free.

The lack of due diligence by the Alberta government to negotiate and deliver a functioning project on time is plain to see. Four years later, the premier should not be allowed to play the blame game and avoid responsibility.

Sam Denhaan

President

Central Alberta Council on Aging

Red Deer