MLA wraps up seniors tour

Alberta seniors want to live in their homes longer, remain in their communities for long-term care and better food once in that care.

Alberta seniors want to live in their homes longer, remain in their communities for long-term care and better food once in that care.

Those recommendations top the findings after a two-week, 24-community provincial tour by Wildrose Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA Kerry Towle.

“It was very positive. People were very engaged, but there were some disturbing practices,” said the opposition seniors critic. Staying in their homes longer pays off in happier, healthier seniors, Towle said, but home care limitations made it difficult.

“Many seniors talked about being forced into care facilities because of a lack of home care outside medical need.”

Seniors also decried Alberta Health Services’ 100-km rule where seniors needing care could be placed in a facility up to 100 km from their home communities.

“It creates emotional and financial hardship,” Towle said, adding such placement amounts to “divorce by nursing home” for couples.

Returning to meals using fresh ingredients prepared in local kitchens was universal.

“It doesn’t matter the care level, people want home-cooked meals, including in hospitals,” she said, explaining costs would decline once packaging and shipping of meals prepared in central kitchens was eliminated.

“Do we prioritize the health and welfare of our seniors, or anyone in care, or is it about dollars?”

Towle didn’t attend the final meeting in Red Deer Saturday due to a family emergency, but she said speakers also brought up parking concerns at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre.

Towle hopes MLAs of all parties support her private member’s bill in the new legislative session beginning today. Bill 208: the Seniors’ Advocate Act, which has received first reading, would create a permanent provincial officer to advocate for seniors.

“He could take on a role like the auditor general and be a truly independent advocate and accountable to the public, not the government,” she said, with the position’s costs paid by eliminating waste and duplication within Alberta Health Services.

Towle said the Wildrose Party doesn’t know whether it would continue to pay commercial operators to provide public assisted living beds as the government does now. Symphony Senior Living Aspen Ridge in Red Deer, which went through a strike last month by Alberta Union of Provincial Employees’ members, will end its contract with AHS next year to provide 49 publicly-funded supportive living beds

“As a party, we’ll have to take this into account. There’s room in the system for private operators, but everything we do has to be done for the person in care.”

The party’s membership will likely consider the question when Towle delivers her final report to caucus and the public.

“We’re a membership-driven party so policies are formed at that level.”

Towle said her party “would love to have a meeting with government ministers to resolve these issues.

“But I’m not terribly optimistic they want to work with us.”

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