Alberta will reduce long-term care in favour of for-profit assisted living

EDMONTON — Alberta’s plans to shift seniors care to the private sector have been revealed in detail for the first time in a planning document leaked to the NDP.

EDMONTON — Alberta’s plans to shift seniors care to the private sector have been revealed in detail for the first time in a planning document leaked to the NDP.

The 60-page draft consulting report prepared for the province’s long-term care branch in May outlines plans to scale back the ratio of nursing home and other long-term care beds while increasing assisted living spaces.

The NDP said this makes no sense because the waiting list for long-term care beds has tripled in recent years.

Many seniors, especially those with dementia, need to be in nursing homes, NDP Leader Brian Mason told a news conference Tuesday.

“Seniors who need a high level of care will end up in assisted living where they don’t get that care,” said Mason.

Seniors who can’t find the kind of long-term care they need will end up in crowded hospitals, he said.

“That backs up the emergency rooms and creates waiting lists for everything,” said Mason. “So the government strategy not only fails seniors, but it also creates very serious problems for our hospitals.”

There’s three types of continuing care in Alberta — long-term, assisted living and supportive living.

The leaked document says long-term care would be reduced to 20 per cent of total care space in Alberta, down from the current level of 40 per cent, according to the NDP.

Designated assisted living would be boosted to 60 per cent, while supportive living would make up the remaining 20 per cent.

The difference between these three levels of care is the number of nurses on staff at the facilities and the overall level of care, which is the highest in long-term care facilities.

Alberta currently has 14,500 long-term care beds and the government’s continuing care strategy, which was made public last year, says these beds will be kept at the current level for several years.

But the strategy also bluntly stated that Alberta needs a new strategy to meet the needs of an aging population.

“Without more alternatives, Alberta would need an additional 15,000 long-term care beds over the next 20 years. That’s 750 beds annually or more than four new facilities per year,” says the public document.

So the government has been holding closed-door meetings with both public and private sector officials to discuss plans for a new policy for creating spaces for people who can no longer care for themselves.

The document leaked to the NDP gives Albertans their first insight into what’s being considered at these meetings.

But Seniors Minister Mary Anne Jablonski insisted Tuesday that the government has yet to decide on any new policies for long-term care.

“No decisions have been made,” said Jablonski. “We will look at having the right number of beds in the right places for our seniors so that they can get the right care in the right place.”

Every month 1,000 more people become seniors and soon there will be 500,000 seniors in Alberta, so the province is planning based on these numbers, said the minister.

But Jablonski also said it’s also important to know that 90 per cent of seniors stay in their own homes, so this must also be reflected in the new strategy.

“We have to make sure that we have enough home care to look after our seniors who want to stay in their homes,” she said. “When they want to, they’ll move into a facility.”

The leaked document also outlines plans to increase fees for assisted living to make it more attractive for developers, but more costly for seniors.

Noel Somerville, who chairs the seniors task force with the lobby group Public Interest Alberta, said there are currently 800 people waiting for long-term care beds.

“It is very upsetting to see how they are planning to further reduce access to and privatize the whole system,” Somerville said in a release.

Premier Ed Stelmach had promised 600 new long-term care beds prior to last year’s provincial election.

Jablonski conceded Tuesday that there has been a delay in adding these beds.

“It hasn’t been cancelled, it hasn’t been stopped, it’s been delayed,” she said. “There’s many delays because of the economy.”

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