Aging in Alberta: fleecing in the right place

If you can’t afford to age in the right place, I guess you can age in the wrong place.

Thanks to an anonymous leaker, we now know what Ed Stelmach’s government has in mind when it promises elderly Albertans “aging in the right place.”

What they really mean is “fleecing in the right place.”

The leaker mailed the New Democratic Party’s tiny caucus in the Alberta Legislature a complete copy of a confidential consultant’s report – which was prepared for the government’s Seniors and Community Supports Department after private meetings between top government officials and “stakeholders,” presumably meaning representatives of the seniors care “industry.”

But for one representative of the tame Council on Aging, “special interests” – you know, like the public, seniors themselves or the people who work in these places – seem not to have been invited. The actual make-up of this committee is nine senior government bureaucrats, six from the Seniors Ministry; two nursing home operators; one “caregiver representative” who is also listed as a project co-ordinator with Capital Care; and the supposed senior’s rep. One of the bureaucrats, from the Health Department, has the interesting title “Senior Manager, Continuing Care Policy, Health System Transformation.” Transformation?

The Knee-Dips, apparently, got wind of this document a while ago and filed a Freedom of Information request, which in this province should be known as a Freedom from Information request. What eventually turned up was so heavily redacted as to be useless.

Thankfully for us mere citizens of Alberta, lo and behold the whole thing turned up a few days later in the traditional plain brown-paper envelope in a New Democratic caucus in-basket.

What the leaked document revealed is that the government plans to shut down affordable publicly supported long-term care facilities for seniors, which come under our public health care system, and replace them with costly beds in for-profit seniors’ homes – the kind of places where the elderly are charged hundreds of dollars a month extra for assistance going to the bathroom or having more than one bath a week.

This amounts to massive financial redistribution scheme in which the hard-earned savings of elderly Albertans of ordinary means, which otherwise would be wastefully inherited by their feckless children, will now go where they belong – into the pockets of wealthy corporate nursing home operators. Each one of these, no doubt, is a heavy donor to the governing party.

Some of the things said in the leaked document make this pretty clear. It argues, for example, that the government needs to “reinforce the responsibility of residents to pay for their accommodation costs.” And if they can’t afford it? Screw ’em! Let ’em stay with their kids, or move into the streets with the mentally ill.

Alberta also needs “to establish a more market-driven approach to encourage the investment community to enter this sector,” the report stated. Wow! Great news! Maybe they’ll do as good a job as they did of managing the banking industry! You know who got to pay for that one.

The goal of the government’s policies, according the report, should be to cut the number of long-term care beds to 20 per cent of the total health beds available for seniors, a reduction from the present 40 per cent. Click here if you want to read this depressing document yourself.

According to the Edmonton Journal, NDP Leader Brian Mason said that would be equivalent to closing up to 9,000 publicly run long-term care beds out of the 14,500 currently funded in the province.

Since the Stelmach Conservatives promised to add 600 long-term care beds during the last election campaign, Mason called this the worst deception he’s seen by a government in his years in politics.

The government’s first instinct was to rush into qualified, partial denial mode. The Seniors Minister, the hapless Mary Anne Jablonski of Red Deer, ducked and weaved unconvincingly, insisting the document was only a draft.

This seems a bit lame, seeing as it says exactly what has been widely understood by both supporters and opponents to be the government’s policy literally for months.

At any rate, she told the Journal in the same story quoted above, “it is not government policy. … I’m not looking at closing any long-term care beds.”

Then came this sinister addendum: “That’s not my department. That would be Health and Wellness’s department.”

Ah, Health and Wellness. You know, the department that closes beds.

Health and Wellness Minister Ron Liepert was uncharacteristically silent. So I guess we can likely take that as confirmation that the document’s not a draft.

At any rate, brouhaha over the government’s plans to close long-term care beds provided Alberta Health Services’ Australian Supremo Stephen Duckett with a welcome respite from the daily attacks on his plans to close mental health beds, close acute care beds, and, no doubt now that the nights are turning cold, close flower beds.

You’ll be glad to know that management at AHS have been using their time well, engaging in mature dialogue with their in-house opponents.

The United Nurses of Alberta reported this afternoon that AHS has taken to blocking UNA’s Website from its computers in Edmonton and other workplaces. “The message that comes up is ‘inappropriate content.’”

Well, that’ll show those nurses!

What’s more, the nurses reported, an AHS management memo today demanded that nurses and other employees at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton take all their breaks, unless “approved in advance…”

Four days earlier, Mr. Duckett was complaining to the Calgary Sun that nurses hardly worked because of all their “morning tea breaks and afternoon tea breaks and coffee breaks and everything else.”

You know, folks, you just can’t make this stuff up!

One Comment on "Aging in Alberta: fleecing in the right place"

  1. catnip says:

    It's the return of Ralph's slash & burn policies. But this time they can't blame it on the federal Liberals.

    I found Jablonski's very defensive denial to be telling. It's only a position paper. Sure. Where have we heard that before?

    Eddie's in trouble with fiscal Cons and he's not about to pander to those pesky human rights people.


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