AB government doubles down on the sale of seniors’ care to profit
Today’s announcement by Premier Kenney and Health Minister Shandro, boasting a ‘new approach’ to creating continuing care spaces featured nothing of the sort. Instead, what we’re seeing is this government perpetuating the same old system that has been in crisis for decades. A crisis that is the direct result of rampant privatization, and a funding structure that creates incentives for both not-for-profit and especially for-profit providers to underpay their staff, and understaff their facilities.
“It is beyond comprehension as to why this government refuses to learn from the ongoing public health emergency that is COVID-19, despite the glaring light it has cast onto the long-existing cracks and weakness in our senior’s care system,” says Sandra Azocar, Executive Director of Friends of Medicare.
During today’s press conference, Health Minister Tyler Shandro indicated that the first part of this approach will involve opening a mere one-month long bidding process to corporate and non-profit organizations who can identify “underutilized space” in existing buildings to become new publicly-funded, privately-delivered continuing care beds. As of now, the government is uncertain how many new beds this program will secure, how many additional staff will be needed, or how much this will cost the public.
As of August 31, 2020, 158 out of the 239 COVID-19 related deaths in Alberta have been residents of continuing care facilities. “One would hope that the government would see these dismal numbers as a wake up call that they must reassess and re-think the clearly broken manner in which we provide care for seniors,” says Azocar. “But it seems they are instead committed to doubling down on turning our seniors into commodities by opening up an ambiguous bidding process that will further open up the care of our seniors to the market forces.”
This first phase of their so-called ‘new’ approach to building continuing care spaces fails to recognize the clear need for higher levels of care that are needed today and more so into the future . “Our seniors speak to the success of our health care; we are able to keep people living and staying healthier longer, so by the time seniors require facility living, the acuity and complexity of their needs is higher,” says Azocar. “We need to ensure we are planning long-term if we are to provide the appropriate care that our seniors need and deserve.”
In the next few months Minister Shandro has indicated that they will be announcing the next phase of the approach, which will include capital grants under what he calls “ASLI 2.0.” As it stands today, the Affordable Supportive Living Initiative (ASLI) allows the government to provide up to 50% of funding for construction costs, followed by operational costs to run privately and non-profit facilities. The province does not own the buildings, and once the contracts expire, the public must buy the building back at the market price. The initiative has resulted in the aggressive privatization of Alberta’s continuing care system, and the erosion of higher-acuity long-term care (LTC) in favour of expanding the more lucrative and under-regulated designated supportive living (DSL) facilities.
The 2013 Parkland Institute study, From Bad to Worse: Residential elder care in Alberta, revealed that while private assisted living facilities received high return rates on investments, they provided a lower quality of care than public assisted living facilities, and were found to be understaffed by an average of 90 minutes per resident each day. In 2016, a follow up study revealed that while all ownership types actually fall short of recommended care standards in Alberta, the average public facility offered significantly more hours of care than other ownership models–nearly two weeks each year of additional hands-on care.
This discrepancy has only worsened with COVID-19: a study from July of this year indicated that for-profit facilities had “more extensive outbreaks and more deaths” than those that are publicly run. However, rather than learning from the difficult lessons of this pandemic, the government has not slowed on their plight to instil a private, for-profit seniors’ care system where investors are ensured a high rate of return at the expense of those who are most vulnerable and in need of care.
“It’s unacceptable for this government to proliferate a continuing care system that prioritizes profits over patients, and that has resulted in the potentially avoidable deaths of hundreds of Albertan seniors,” says Azocar. “Alberta can’t continue to subsidize a broken system.”
This province needs to put an end to profit in seniors’ care—full stop. We need to ensure that seniors finally have good access to the quality continuing care they need and deserve, and the only way to do that is by bringing seniors’ care back under the public umbrella. Alberta's seniors deserve better.