Draft report a cause for concern: seniors

A leaked advisory document that calls for cutting nursing home beds in Alberta while increasing community assisted living beds, is causing skepticism and concern among local seniors.

A leaked advisory document that calls for cutting nursing home beds in Alberta while increasing community assisted living beds, is causing skepticism and concern among local seniors.

How many additional sick elderly people can be cared for in the community when home care workers are already strained to provide needed services, said Sam Denhaan, president of the Central Alberta Council on Aging.

Considering waiting lists for nursing home spots have risen drastically, Denhaan isn’t sure how long-term care beds can be reduced, as proposed in a document leaked this week to the NDP.

The draft report compiled by an advisory group proposes cutting nursing home spots to 20 per cent of total care spaces in Alberta, from the current level of 40 per cent. Designated assisted living spots could be boosted to 60 per cent, while supportive living could make up the remaining 20 per cent.

Denhaan questioned how frail seniors, including those with dementia, will be able to afford care when many assisted living facilities are run by for-profit companies that charge as much for some services as they do for room and board.

Will seniors who can’t pay for extra care be forced to go without it, questioned Denhaan, who also expressed concern about less accountability and transparency if the private sector provides more seniors care.

Doug Janssen, a Red Deer resident who’s vice-president of the Alberta Council on Aging, believes the government needs to be more pro-active. Sooner or later, Janseen said many of the 80-year-old Albertans who are now still healthy and living in their own homes, are going to require care.

“If people can be cared for in the community, you’ve got to plan upfront for it,” he said. Without adequate planning and staffing, he fears many frail seniors will end up in hospital beds.

But Alberta Seniors Minister Mary Anne Jablonski said home care and other community services would certainly be beefed up if the government ever did reduce long-term care beds. She stressed, however, that the draft report is not government policy.

It was written by an advisory group that received input from the Alberta Council on Aging and other community members, she added.

Jablonski, who is the MLA for Red Deer North, said changes in seniors care are not being considered for cost-saving reasons, but because elderly Albertans have said they want to age at home or in their own communities. She believes many seniors, including those with dementia, would be better off in home-like settings.

Affordability and standards of care will always be important factors, said Jablonski, who named several government programs that provide support for low-income seniors, or set caps for room and board costs.

Jablonski did not know whether the advisory report would be adopted, but she said, “People who need long-term care beds will have long-term care beds.”

As for concerns about assisted living facilities being run by for-profit corporations, Jablonski said most are operated by not-for-profit boards.

The Central Alberta Council on Aging had previously invited Jablonski to speak about seniors care at 9 a.m. at their Oct. 6 meeting at the Golden Circle.

Board member Shirley Thomas believes many questions will now centre on the leaked report. She hopes to get a good turnout to show the Red Deer North MLA there’s a lot of concern about the proposed changes.

Many more seniors, given recent investment losses, will be concerned about affordable living options, said Thomas. She believes their families will be too, since the adult children of seniors are now paying more for their own children’s education costs, and could be worried about having to top up their parents’ accommodation costs as well.

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com

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