Alberta issues call for long-term care spaces in 'under-utilized' facilities

Alberta Health Services is making 31 communities a priority for new spaces, due to shortages and future demand. They range in size from large cities like Calgary and Edmonton to smaller rural towns like Lamont and Vulcan. 

Advocacy group worries the government is increasingly distancing itself from long-term care

Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro gestures during a news conference about long-term care spaces on Tuesday. (CBC)

The Alberta government wants to fund long-term care spaces but not pay for renovations or the construction of new buildings, at least in the short term of a strategy announced on Tuesday. 

In the first phase of the plan, announced by Premier Jason Kenney and Health Minister Tyler Shandro, the government is asking non-profit and private seniors' care providers to submit proposals to offer continuing care in existing "under-utilized" facilities.

"This will speed the addition of capacity to the continuing care system without taking years to construct a new building," Kenney said.

Announcements about new buildings will be made in the coming months, he added.

Alberta Health Services is making 31 communities a priority for new spaces, due to shortages and future demand. They range in size from large cities like Calgary and Edmonton to smaller rural towns like Lamont and Vulcan. 

Shandro couldn't provide a number of how many beds will be created in this first phase of the proposal. 

"Until we actually do get submissions from the proponents for this request for expressions of interest, we won't know the extent to which we can add new spaces," he said. 

"At least hundreds at this point but we don't have a specific number at this point until we get those submissions."

Shandro said a future announcement will have a capital component to it, a program he called ASLI 2.0. This is a reference to the Alberta Supportive Living Initiative started under previous Progressive Conservative governments, in which the province funded half the construction cost of new facilities built by private and non-profit providers. 

The NDP scaled back the program during its time as Alberta's government. 

COVID reset needed 

Friends of Medicare, a group that advocates for a publicly funded health care system, criticized the United Conservative government for continuing to privatize Alberta's long-term care system. 

Executive director Sandra Azocar said Tuesday's announcement was scant on details 

"They didn't say how many beds are going to be created. They didn't say how much staff is going to be required or even what the facilities that they're proposing to be out there will look like or where they will be located," she said. 

"It was almost a non-announcement. But it's a really worrisome indication that this government is totally opening up our seniors care to the market system." 

Azocar said the current COVID-19 crisis offered the government a chance for a reset and move away from the current system which has long-term care provided by government, non-profit and for-profit organizations. 

Some experts are now calling on Canada to get non-governmental operators out of long-term care, and move facilities into the public health-care system.

They say low staffing levels at for-profit homes and movement of low-paid workers between multiple facilities gave the virus a chance to spread throughout a vulnerable elderly population. 

Azocar noted Tuesday that 158 of the Albertans who have died due to COVID-19 were residents of continuing care facilities. As of Aug. 31, there have been 241 deaths in the province.

She said the government should be planning for the needs of seniors, particularly those with conditions like Alzheimer's disease, which requires a complex level of care. Instead, she said, the government is letting providers determine parameters of care. 

"It's not about seniors care. It's not about providing the optimum care or creating a system that's responsive to the reality that we're seeing from this pandemic," she said. "It's just about creating a market system for a public service. And that's just wrong."

The request for expression of interest announced Tuesday closes at the end of September


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