Edmonton

Proposed legislation would bring Alberta continuing care under one set of rules

The Alberta government has tabled legislation it says will make oversight of continuing care more consistent in the province.

Bill follows report that recommended hiring thousands more health-care workers

A doctor visits a senior in her Toronto apartment. Alberta's health minister tabled Bill 11, the Continuing Care Act, in the legislature Monday, in an attempt to bring long-term care, assisted living, supported living, home care and palliative care under one set of rules. (Cole Burston/AFP/Getty Images)

The Alberta government has tabled legislation it says will make oversight of continuing care more consistent in the province.

Health Minister Jason Copping tabled Bill 11, the Continuing Care Act, in the legislature Monday, in an attempt to bring long-term care, assisted living, supported living, home care and palliative care under one set of rules.

"It'll enable us to have a consistent approach across the entire sector," Copping said at an embargoed news conference Monday morning. "It'll enable us to ensure that there's actually licensing for all the facilities that come under the act and better oversight with the ministry."

If passed, the act would replace six pieces of governing legislation. For at least the next year, the government would also develop new regulations and standards for continuing care.

Copping said Alberta's existing system is a patchwork, and that's a problem.

He pointed to the "silliness" of a person who would be required to move to a different room within the same facility if they're moving from designated supported living to long-term care, even if that facility offers both options.

"That doesn't make any sense," he said.

The act would cover both publicly funded continuing care and home care and privately run seniors' lodges and supportive living.

If passed, the act would expand the government's ability to levy fines against facilities or care-giving companies that break the rules or violate new standards of care. The maximum possible fine would rise to $100,000 a day, up from $1,000 a day, Copping said.

No minimum hours of care in act

The legislation has been in the works for nearly a year after the government released a report it had commissioned on facility-based care.

The MNP report, released in May 2021, said Alberta needed to prepare for a demographic bulge of seniors that would expand the need for continuing care services by more than 60 per cent by 2030.

MNP made 42 recommendations, including caring for a larger proportion of people in their homes, rather than in facilities. It also recommended increasing the number of hours of care people received each day, moving more workers to full-time positions and employing more than 5,000 full-time workers to make the changes happen.

The report's authors wanted to see more consistent and efficient inspections of continuing care centres, and more public reporting — particularly on measures that affect residents' quality of life.

Copping said some of those changes may take years to achieve. He said law changes are necessary to make some of those recommended improvements.

Copping said the government hasn't decided whether it will adopt MNP's recommended minimum hours of care for residents. Doing so could cost an additional $410 million a year, the report found.

Janet Franklin, who founded a family council at her mother's Edmonton care centre, welcomes the move to streamline legislation. She says the current system is "mind boggling" and "confusing" for residents and families.

However, she would like to see more decisions affecting the quality of care enshrined in the law, rather than regulations. Operators should be compelled to consult with family councils when making decisions, she said. Current minimum hours of care for long-term care residents are too low, she said.

The requirements for nursing, personal care, doctor's visits, and physical and occupational therapy should be spelled out, she said. Staff caring for patients with specialized needs, like those with dementia, or Parkinson's disease, should have extra training.

"We all should be interested in continuing care," Franklin said. "It will impact everyone in Alberta sooner or later."

Chris Gallaway, executive director of Friends of Medicare, said the legislation should take more steps to improve working conditions in continuing care to help improve the quality of care.

If passed, the new law would take effect in spring 2023 at the earliest, depending on when new regulations and standards are ready.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Janet French

Provincial affairs reporter

Janet French covers the Alberta Legislature for CBC Edmonton. She previously spent 15 years working at newspapers, including the Edmonton Journal and Saskatoon StarPhoenix. You can reach her at janet.french@cbc.ca.

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