The province's transition to new home care providers prompted more complaints than first thought, including families reporting that their new caregivers would not show up to appointments, a CBC investigation has found.
The abrupt changes meant that many elderly home care clients lost their longtime caregivers, and home care workers were forced to apply for new jobs with a different employer.
Documents obtained through access to information reveal that numerous complaints were logged from families and clients over the summer whose new home care providers weren't showing up for appointments, leaving vulnerable home care clients stranded without care.
'We are all in tears'
According to the documents, in some cases, families pleaded with AHS to allow their parents to retain their workers, fearing disruption of care would harm their loved ones who were already suffering from frail health.
In one exchange, a daughter wrote to AHS about her father who was deaf and blind. She emphasized that the "timing could not be worse" and that it would be "in the best interest" of her parents to continue with their familiar caregiver.
AHS declined the request because it would not be "efficient" to travel outside the region where she lived in Edmonton, which it compared to travelling between the neighbourhoods of Millwoods and Capilano.
Two weeks after being informed of the AHS decision, the daughter's mother passed away, leaving the family to move their father into a care facility.
In another example, a family wrote of how their new home care provider Revera had "consistently been NO SHOWS! When we call them, we are told someone is coming, or informed they don't have the staff!"
The letter goes on to appeal AHS for assistance.
"Please help us, our parents both wish to live at home but at this rate we are all in tears."
AHS acknowledged there were challenges with the transition, and in October, CBC again broke the story that Revera gave up its contract in southwest Edmonton, blaming problems with attracting and retaining staff. Once again, that meant more change for clients.
Trish Barbato, vice president of home health for Revera, says the company tried everything it could to attract staff in southwest Edmonton. She says Revera increased wages by ten percent, offered compensation for travel and even provided rental cars.
"We were awarded geographies in opposite ends of the city, some 40 kilometres apart from end-to-end, and that made it impossible to pool staff resources," she told CBC News.
More money for homecare coming
Alberta Health Minister Fred Horne stands by the decision to streamline the number of contracts.
"I'd be the first to admit it was not a smooth transition," Horne said. "It was a large transition and there was not as much consultation with local communities as I think there should have been."
But Horne acknowledges home care is the fastest growing area of seniors' care — one that he says will see increased funding in the coming year.
The Health Quality Council of Alberta is currently reviewing the reporting systems used to track how and if home care providers are meeting standards, and how systems can be improved.
But the review will not track access to home care, home care funding, or quality of services. The report is due to be finished by the end of February.