Long-term care providers in Alberta are worried about what a government-ordered three per cent budget cut will mean for the quality of care.

Operators may have to cut staff and reduce the amount of hours that health-care aides spend with each patient, said Bruce West, executive director of the Alberta Continuing Care Association. 

While basic care and safety standards will be met, there could be an impact on residents' quality of life, West said.

"There' s going to be some niceties that may have to be reduced ... the amount of time that a nurse or a health-care aide is to spend talking to a senior," he said. "It's going to be those little extra desserts, those special desserts that get prepared or ... just those social activities that they might be able to be involved in."

On Wednesday, Alberta Health Services announced the cuts as part of its strategy to reduce its $1.1-billion deficit.

Operators of private surgical centres, assisted-living homes and Covenant Health — which operates Roman Catholic hospitals in Edmonton — have also been ordered to reduce costs by three per cent.

AHS cutting millions

Alberta Health Services is currently making cuts to save $650 million. The three per cent reduction will save the system $315 million more.

The news of the budget cut caught West off-guard. Long-term care facilities had just been given a six per cent increase to maintain current care levels.

The three per cent across-the-board cuts represents another challenge for operators, especially with the threat of a fall outbreak of the swine flu virus.

"Right now we're trying to prepare for a potential pandemic and we have no additional funding to do that," West said.

Cuts will put more pressure on an already overloaded system, said Edmonton seniors advocate Ruth Maria Adria.

"Long-term care was already operating on bare bones prior to this," she said. "It's a little difficult to comprehend how there can be a further cutback."

Long-term care providers will have to tell Alberta Health Services how they plan to make their cuts by Dec. 1.