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Higher fees, more privatization highlight recommendations on Alberta’s long-term care system

Alberta Matters: What AHS review suggests for seniors’ care
WATCH ABOVE: As the population ages, governments across the country are facing the growing challenge of seniors’ care. In Part 4 of our Alberta Matters series looking at the AHS review, Tom Vernon finds out what the report prescribes for pressure on long-term care.

It is a challenge that governments right across Canada are struggling with, providing enough long-term care spaces for an aging population. This year, Alberta Health Services will spend more than $1 billion on continuing care, but the system is still plagued with shortages.

The EY performance review into AHS found that seniors are still being kept in acute care beds while they wait for spaces. It also found that many others have been placed in long-term care beds, even if they only require less complex care.

The report makes several recommendations on ways to free up space, cut costs and generate more revenue. They range from converting under-utilized hospitals into care facilities to allowing more private delivery of continuing care, including exploring the sale of publicly owned providers Carewest and CapitalCare.

Alberta’s system already has a mix of public and private delivery, and Health Minister Tyler Shandro said that is going to stay the same.

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Still, the opposition NDP is concerned the suggestion of further privatization is even being considered.

“These guys don’t care about the people who need this service,” NDP Leader Rachel Notley told Global News.

“They care about privatizing everything because it’s an ideological drive for them.”

READ MORE: Alberta government nixes AHS review recommendation to close 5 rural hospitals, Edmonton trauma centre

Advocates for seniors also have concerns with the idea of further privatization, because those operations would always have a profit motive.

“Instead of trying to reconcile that and looking at ways how we can do that more economically, the idea is simply to turn it over to the private sector. It’s scary,” said Rick Brick with the National Association of Federal Retirees, an advocacy group for more than 170,000 Canadian seniors.

To generate more revenue, the report recommends increasing accommodation fees to align with fees paid in Ontario. That would see rates increase between $186 and $400 per month.

Tonia Gloweski/ Global News
Tonia Gloweski/ Global News Tonia Gloweski/ Global News

This is a conversation the Alberta Continuing Care Association would like to have.

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“Accommodation rates are used by owner-operators to provide hospitality services like food and housekeeping,” said Jennifer McCue, the association’s board chair, and also the president of the Bethany Care Society.

“Also, they are used to provide maintenance for our buildings [and] pay our utilities, so they need to keep pace with the rising costs of providing those services.”

AHS is looking at these recommendations and has until mid-May to come up with an implementation plan. The financial impact on seniors will be a consideration.

“We gave some parameters, and one was for AHS — as they develop an implementation plan — for them to be able to consider the impacts on lower income Albertans,” Shandro said.