Beds in Central Alberta hospitals may have escaped the chopping block, but local residents could still find it harder to get a bed.
On Wednesday, Alberta Health Services announced it will close 350 acute care beds in Edmonton and Calgary hospitals over the next three years. The beds will be held for emergencies like an H1N1 outbreak.
The plan is to create about 775 new “community care spaces” that are more appropriate to the level of care required, like supportive living and long-term care for seniors.
Sam Denhaan, president of Central Alberta Council on Aging, said people who can’t get a bed in Edmonton or Calgary could end up in Red Deer’s hospital and Central Albertans who need specialized acute care may not find beds in Edmonton or Calgary.
Seniors care will also worsen despite the new community care spaces and it will come at a higher cost for seniors, he maintained.
“We’re going from public to completely for-profit extended care and the changes that it will bring. Nobody speaks about that,” Denhaan said on Wednesday.
AHS has agreements with 15 private operators to construct community care facilities.
Ken Collier, president of the Alberta Friends of Medicare, said anyone looking at entering long-term care in the future will need extra cash or else end up in “off-the-book” facilities.
“Those who can’t afford the long-term private care, or get into the public ones, will wind up in private houses where you will have people running a long-term care facility in their own house,” Collier said.
Depending on the number of people in care, they could operate unregulated by unqualified staff, he said.
AHS is underestimating the number of people who need help now and in the years to come as the population continues to age and grow as more people migrate to Alberta, Collier said.
“Last I heard, there were almost 1,600 people who had applied for and qualified for long-term care beds but are still waiting.”
AHS is also misjudging the number of acute and chronic care beds required for a province that relies on natural resource industries like the oilpatch, said the public health care advocate.
Research by the provincial government in British Columbia showed the fastest growing portion of acute and chronic care patients is people aged 30 to 55 age as workers take on higher risk in high-pressure resource industries.
“If you get hurt in those industries often enough it’s a permanent, really serious injury with a lot of cost implication and care implication.
“Because they were younger, they were going to be there for decades instead of just a few years.”
As for bed closures in Central Alberta, Collier said he didn’t expect any here for now.
“Central Alberta is probably off the hook for a bit because what used to be the David Thompson Health Region spent the least on health care of all the regions in the province.”