Despite Alison Redford’s rhetoric, not much has changed on seniors’ care

Old folks at home: things are changing in Alberta, and not necessarily for the better. Below: Ed Stelmach, Guy Boutilier, Raj Sherman.

Does anybody remember the brouhaha in 2009 that was semi-officially designated The Trouble in Strathmore?

The trouble actually started a year earlier, in February 2008, when then premier Ed Stelmach and his Progressive Conservatives were running for election. The premier got up on his hind legs at a campaign meeting in the town half an hour east of Calgary and promised residents the government of Alberta would build 600 long-term care beds, 100 of them right there in Strathmore. There were 23 long-term care beds in the town at the time.

“We don’t need any more meetings,” Mr. Stelmach vowed. “It is a go.”

If Mr. Stelmach had kept that election promise, he might still be premier today.

At least, if “bed blockers,” who should be in long-term care beds but are stuck in acute care hospital beds, caused the Emergency Room wait time crisis that so deeply wounded Mr. Stelmach’s premiership, building the promised long-term care beds would have helped defuse the problem that continues to this day. Indeed, if the Tories had been serious about doing what they promised, Wildrose MLA Guy Boutilier and Alberta Liberal Leader Raj Sherman would most likely still both be loyal Conservatives!

Instead, the strategic brain trust behind Mr. Stelmach’s ministry – including then-health minister and tireless seniors’ care privatization advocate Ron Liepert – diverted their efforts down the cul-de-sac of privatization and misrepresentation.

A year after Mr. Stelmach made his promise, with the Conservatives safely back in office with a huge majority, Mr. Liepert announced that the health department was reviewing its capital plans, including the promised long-term care beds in Strathmore.

By then, the government was working on a deal with AgeCare, a private company founded in 1998 by two physicians named Hasmukh Patel and Kabir Jivraj. In 1996 and 1997, Dr. Jivraj was president of the Alberta Medical Association, and in 1999 and 2002 he was senior vice-president and chief medical officer of the Calgary Health Region. A few years later, according to the Sun newspapers, a numbered company he controlled would make generous contributions to both the Redford and Gary Mar Tory leadership campaigns.

Back in 2009, a story in the Calgary Herald said AgeCare confirmed it had won $4.3 million in provincial funding to build 60 designated assisted living units in Strathmore for seniors, plus $10 million to build 82 affordable housing units, about half of which will be set aside for independent seniors. Dr. Jivraj was quoted as saying he believed the projects had no connection with Mr. Stelmach’s unkept 2008 election pledge.

According to the community’s newspaper, however, Strathmore-Brooks MLA Arno Doerksen told townspeople at about the same time that if the partnership with AgeCare became reality, the 100 long-term care beds would not be built.

Then something unusual happened, which suggests the people in Strathmore were paying more attention than most of us here in Alberta. They figured out the deceptive game the government of Alberta habitually plays with the terminology it uses to describe seniors’ care.

In the government’s lexicon, “long-term care” means properly regulated, appropriately staffed, publicly funded residential health care for seniors. “Designated assisted living” means privatized hotel-style residential care in which seniors have to pay for extra baths, feeding assistance or anything beyond the basics. Some designated services may be publicly funded, but they are likely to be delivered by a personal care assistant, not a Registered Nurse. “Continuing care,” means a combination of both – inevitably heavily weighted toward private, less regulated delivery.

The deception comes into it because the government assumes that most of us, unlike the citizens of Strathmore, don’t understand the differences and think we’re getting long-term care when they use our tax money to subsidize private corporations to build for-profit assisted living facilities.

This was what prompted The Trouble in Strathmore, when the good people of that community began to write angry letters to the editor (who in turn wrote critical and well-informed editorials), and took part in public demonstrations that made Mr. Stelmach look like a bumbler and revealed his government’s sharp practices.

As far as Mr. Stelmach is concerned, arguably, the rest is history.

One would hope the current Conservative government of Premier Alison Redford has learned from Mr. Stelmach’s errors. Alas, the evidence suggests they have not.

Earlier this week, the government slipped back into its deceptive ways with an announcement in Edmonton by Seniors Minister George VanderBurg that “seniors and persons with disabilities in six Alberta communities will benefit from more than 500 new affordable supportive living and long-term care spaces.”

If you read the fine print, though, you’ll learn that of the 541 new spaces, only 30 are actual long-term care beds – something that the Redford government, just like the Stelmach government, hopes you won’t notice.

The way the government news release explained this was as follows: “These projects will help build 511 new affordable supportive living and 30 long-term care spaces in Calgary, Okotoks, Strathmore, Edmonton, Villeneuve and Olds, identified by Alberta Health Services as having the greatest need for additional spaces and services.” Actually, and quite interestingly, it turns out that all 30 of the actual long-term care beds are located in … wait for it … Strathmore! This proves, I guess, that even in Alberta, the squeaky wheel gets a little grease!

Among the private-sector recipients of the government funds of the latest $48.2 million in public money being spent on this project, according to the government’s news release? Age Care Health Services Inc. – including $7.6 million in Strathmore for the 30 long-term care plus another 70 assisted-living beds.

Meanwhile, the number of long-term care beds in the province, approximately 14,500, has not changed since 1992. While new facilities have opened over the years, the government shuts them down as quickly as they open. The ones that close are likely to be publicly funded, publicly operated facilities, while the new ones are likely to be private, for-profit operations.

So it would seem that under Premier Redford, at least as far as seniors’ care is concerned, very little has changed.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

8 Comments on "Despite Alison Redford’s rhetoric, not much has changed on seniors’ care"

  1. Carlos Beca says:

    Is this a surprise? Nothing will change with this premier. If anything it seems the art of deception is getting more refined by the compassionate mind of our first woman premier. Like the old saying 'Same pile different flies'.

    While you suggest that they think that are taking us in with this private versus public new spaces, the fact is that for 90% of Albertans this game works and that is what counts in the end because the other 10% cannot make enough noise to make any difference. They know this and that is why they continue using it. After all none of them is going to need these services because they can afford better and who cares about those who do?

  2. J to the Fo says:

    I can't agree more! Working as a Social Worker in an acute care hospital where they are pushing for length of stay and more efficient initiatives, all the while in a system that keeps people in acute care settings because they literally have no where to go, makes me scream! Especially when plans for what was to be a newly built Long Term Care facility was changed to be Transitional beds instead, while shutting down beds elsewhere, with me wondering transition to where? Shifting the 'problem' to another setting doesn't solve the back ups and holes in the system.

  3. John. Flipsen says:

    Dear Ms Premier. At one time or an other we all need a long term care bed. Please do make them available soon. or better make them available today not tomorrow. I stand behind all those who are in need of such care. This is a moral duty we have for our seniors. Act now. Money should not be an issue. John

  4. Carlos Beca says:

    J to the Fo – I can only imagine the frustration. The problem is that our governments are no longer interested in solving the real issues. At the top they do not bave to face these situations and so they get concerned about Afghanistan and Iraq and whatever else. 30 billions have already been spent apparently trying to get children to school as well as free women from the oppressive system. In Canada of course we do not have any of those issues. After all we are a first world nation. Spending 30 billion abroad is way more important because allows Harper, McKay and other to be of international stature. McKay was even selected as a candidate to some international institution I cannot remember the name right now. No wonder the world is the state it is right now. Honestly!
    I am old enough to remember when the prime minister took a trip outside the country it was an event. This year alone Harper has been abroad 19 times. They are not interested in small fish like us.

  5. dallas haywood says:

    before his "rise" to seniors and disabled minister, we went to that man as a family OF seniors and disabled who were dealing with illegal moves made by both the municipal and provincial governments and which were causing great distress and illness to all of us and worsening. since he was looking the other way instead of helping us,and he a man whom i believe might possibly otherwise want to be of service, it appeared that he was being dictated to from the top.

    we sent a letter t both him AND his government, announcing that by looking the other way, he was offending both seniors and disabled individuals and groups, that we would be there during the next election to prevent him coming back to mete out more of the same.

    the next thing we heard about him was that he had been made seniors minister!

    we're quite convinced the two events are related and that he is now being given a chance to "show how much he really does care".

    nice try, sell that somewhere else, alberta voters are NOT buying indiscriminately and without doing their research like in old school politics, they are quite tired of being systematically deceived by the government propaganda mill.

  6. dallas haywood says:

    furthermore, as a family making arrangements for a senior family member, we find EVERY long term care facility to have a long waiting list, this miniscule number of spaces will be a drop in the bucket.

    and you are absolutely right, privately owned assisted living accommodations are financially WAaaay out of most seniors' reach.

    but you know if they wait long enough and the public care of seniors gets run down enough, people will go to private, where else? that or an accelerated trip to the bone yard, difficult choices coming our way.

    HELP!!!! we can't take much more of this "alberta advantage"

  7. Heather Haiste says:

    As having worked in the Seniors health care system for 17 years and to now have a parent living in the system,I have to say the greatest atrocity to me is the lack of clear concise strategies for the obvious chaos in the supposedly new improved WHAT again?? if a senior is capable of staying in their home, then we need to maintain this and train "Homecare staff" we need more, this by far is the least intrusive and most economically viable plan for this age group, whom we need to remember built this country and province. If the senior is not able to live interdependently because of medical issues, then they need Long term beds/pallative care beds ,not transitioning beds.If they need assisited living, then do that, quit this lumping of seniors needs into one melting pot, get real,look at the individuals needs and place accordingly and fund staffing accordinly.if you need more money, then ask the oil companies for higher returns back to Albertans all for OUR resources..I don't buy the Idea they will leave, they need us as much as we can use their money,stop the Games, they have never left yet and if they do, they wil be back Quaranteed.DUH.This needs to be far more collaborative as opposed to competitive,the ones that are losing at this game are the seniors, the very ones whom have earned the right to treated with respected and have their dignity intact.which I have to say this government shoots off that they are interested in maintaining these human rights but i don't see the examples being shown .Lead by example.

  8. Linda McFarlane says:

    I lived in a long term care facility for 2.5 years and hope for everyone in long-term care and their families the system can be improved. Here is a letter I sent to the Calgary Herald…most of it was published Dec 1. 2011.

    Letter:
    Alison Redford is proposing that the solution to the issues of long-term care is to increase accommodation fees so that the private sector will build more facilities.

    There are many problems with long-term care, including long waiting lists, insufficient funding and staffing, lack of dignity and privacy, poor quality of life and inadequate monitoring and accountability. I know because I spent 2.5 years in a facility in Calgary!

    Increasing fees so that the private sector will build more facilities will not fix these problems except for the affluent who can afford the higher fees, the owners, shareholders and insurance companies.

    The real solution is to value the importance of treating our seniors and others in care with dignity and respect and to understand that residents need health and personal care because of serious health issues,

    We need government leadership and vision, a strong home care system and a will to build, fund and operate quality public facilities where respect, dignity and what works best for residents is the primary emphasis versus how to maximize profit.

    We can learn from residents, families, research, and front line workers what works in our best facilities. We can learn if information about facilities is openly shared. “User Councils” and an independent ombudsperson with also help us improve accountability and quality.

    We can also learn from countries like Denmark where the health system brings the care that is needed to people where they need it, either, in their homes when possible, in private nursing apartments, or in small group homes for those with dementia. Most facilities in Denmark are publically run. All health and personal care is free. Residents pay a small fee to cover accommodation expenses. Quality, dignity, respect and patient needs are the focus. The costs are not "out of control."

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