No answers for seniors

Local seniors who worry that quality health care is being sacrificed to cost-cutting in Alberta didn’t get their fears alleviated on Tuesday.

Local seniors who worry that quality health care is being sacrificed to cost-cutting in Alberta didn’t get their fears alleviated on Tuesday.

Kerry Bales, the new vice-president of the Central Zone — an amalgam of the areas formerly covered by the David Thompson and East-Central Health Regions — was grilled by 90 members of the Central Alberta Council on Aging at the Red Deer Legion.

Seniors wanted to know how future demand for more nursing home beds will be addressed, and how more health staff will be retained.

They questioned how quality can be assured in new privately-managed nursing homes.

Bales confirmed the need to expand nursing beds as the population ages. But he wasn’t sure whether this could be done by keeping open the aging Red Deer and Valley Park nursing homes, which are supposed to close when the new seniors’ complex opens next spring on Michener Centre grounds, or some other way.

“No decisions have been made yet,” said Bales, who admitted he didn’t have many answers as he’d just stepped into the job.

Bales had no solutions to attracting more nursing home staff.

He said it was a province-wide problem and “we have strategies and they’re going to have to be looked at.”

As for quality control, Bales said a new compliance report on nursing home standards would be released in July. Privately-run nursing homes will have to meet those standards to get Alberta Health accreditation, he said.

But Council on Aging president Sam Denhaan believes this won’t allay fears about inadequate care and patient abuse, since nursing home inspections are now done so infrequently. And will inspection results be reported in future, asked Denhaan. “The public won’t know unless we can see the results.”

One senior wanted to know why new nursing homes are being managed by private partners when their services cost more.

Bales responded that contracting with private companies is a “strategic directive of the province . . . At the zone level it’s our job just to implement that.”

Denhaan asked whether cost-cutting is the sole aim of all the recent health care changes. If so, he said “we are very upset and worried” that services will suffer.

Bale replied that administrative changes in health care in the province are not meant to impact services. “We are in transition, but people are still doing the work.”

The Carstairs-area native, who’s moving to Red Deer, has a background in nursing and has managed clinical teams.

While a few seniors criticized his lack of formal management training, and questioned his ability to handle a job formerly done by a number of people, Bales said he would probably be similarly criticized if he had only business and no health care experience.

After the meeting, Denhan expressed concern that so few answers were forthcoming. “The anxiety is going to be worse.”

He called Bales “a bright young man,” and admitted it was probably unfair to dump so many concerns on one person, “but who else do we have?”

Bales will be invited back to speak to the council in October, when he will presumably have more answers.

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com

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