The Alberta government announced a $3.2-billion investment to expand continuing care for seniors and vulnerable citizens, especially those in rural areas and Indigenous communities.
The province announced Thursday that the money will be earmarked for operating funds to support professional health-care and support services across the continuing care system. Of that, $1.7 billion will go to community care while $1.2 billion and $750 million will go to continuing care and home care, respectively.
Premier Jason Kenney also said the government is investing capital funding to modernize and increase continuing care capacity across the province, contributing $204 million over three years.
Funding will also be provided to complete the Bridgeland-Riverside Continuing Care Centre in Calgary and the Gene Zwozdesky Centre in Edmonton.
“Alberta seniors built this province and we’re standing by them every step of the way … We’re moving forward for Albertans on our path to recovery,” Kenney said at a press conference on Thursday.
Kenney also said the province will continue to protect seniors from COVID-19, pointing to preventative measures such as mask-wearing in continuing care facilities. However, Kenney previously confirmed the government has asked AHS for options to replace its vaccination mandate, saying the move will help solve shortages at rural continuing care facilities in the province.
Kenney previously estimated that 30 per cent of continuing care and nursing home staff in rural areas have not been vaccinated and are paying for rapid antigen tests out of pocket twice a week.
“If you are in a rural continuing care centre where you don’t have enough workers to give the residents a bath, to feed them their meals, to give them proper care … That is an urgent situation we have to address,” Kenney said.
“The data is clear with the transmissibility of Omicron and the waning effectiveness of vaccines against infection and transmission. There is no measurable difference between the likelihood of a vaccinated or an unvaccinated health-care aide.”
When asked who gave him the advice to issue the directive and what advice was given, Kenney pointed to the province’s health data on COVID-19 transmissibility and infections.
“This is not confidential government data. It’s clearly data in the public domain… I think it’s just common sense.”
Public Interest Alberta (PIA) criticized the government’s announcement, saying the $204 million being invested into modernizing continuing care facilities is furthering the UCP government’s privatization agenda.
It cited a Canadian Medical Association Journal article that found COVID-19 outcomes were worse in for-profit homes during the first year of the pandemic due to inferior care.
“The UCP have shown time after time that even during a pandemic they are willing to put critical services at risk. Now, with continuing care, Jason Kenney and the UCP are throwing good money after bad to further privatize the system, despite evidence that for-profit facilities degrade quality and affordability,” PIA executive director Bradley Lafortune said in a press release on Thursday.
NDP critic for seniors and housing Lori Sigurdson echoed similar statements.
“The premier praised privately operated continuing care facilities but did not acknowledge how outcomes of private facilities performed worse than public facilities throughout the pandemic,” Sigurdson said.
“Albertans can’t trust the UCP with their health care.”
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