The brother of a Calgary man who was unexpectedly moved from a long-term care bed in the city to one more than 130 kilometres south is looking for answers.

Dan Shiplack from Regina says his brother Andy, who suffers from multiple sclerosis (MS), was sent from Rockyview Hospital to Claresholm, Alta., without warning.

Shiplack received a call from Alberta Health Services on the night of Feb. 25 saying they were transferring his brother "within 10 hours to Claresholm."

The 52-year-old had been staying in Calgary, where he also has family, for the past eight months.

Andy Shiplack

Andy Shiplack, who has MS, was moved from a long-term care bed in Calgary to another in Claresholm, Alta. (Dan Shiplack )

Alberta Health Services (AHS) had a "first available bed" policy that required continuing care residents to accept a placement within 100 kilometres of their home, but it was withdrawn last June. The goal of ending the policy was to help keep families together.

Heather Oxman, who advocates on behalf of families for the Open Arms Society, says no one is sure now what the policy actually is.

'It's a losing battle'

"Families are fighting with transitional services to keep their loved ones close and it's a losing battle," she said.

Oxman says the health-care system is in trouble, specifically when it comes to long-term care.

MLA David Swann, the Alberta Liberal Party's health critic, says it's time to ask the health minister some serious questions because keeping families close together doesn't seem to be a priority. 

"I'm very disappointed from a quality of life point of view for this individual and their family who now will visit less," he said.

Swann says a complete review of provincial transitional procedures is needed.

"We made a commitment some time ago to keep it within 100 kilometres — that's obviously fallen by the wayside," he said.

Unique patients needs a factor

All decisions of placement are made in consultation with families, according to AHS.

"Many patients have unique programming requirements that may only be able to be met at certain facilities and that may mean they have to go further for a suitable placement that meets their care needs," said Lori Anderson, interim chief zone officer for  Calgary zone.

"For privacy reasons we can't speak to a particular patient's care. What we can say is that if a patient no longer needs acute hospital care, other options must be considered for that patient."

Shiplack has now started a petition urging residents of Alberta to send letters to the Health Minister Fred Horne calling for a review of the "first available bed" policy.

"To have people treated like this in a publicly funded health-care system is just unbelievable," he said. 

Shiplack says proper consultation with families is needed and he hopes his brother will be moved back to Calgary soon.

Alberta's health minister says he has directed AHS to ensure that people are placed in facilities as close to their friends and families as possible. Horne says he is concerned to hear that isn't always the case.