Alberta needs to reevaluate our seniors care system
More action needed to relieve continuing care pressures now & going forward
Yesterday, the provincial government announced that new funding would be made available for staffing of health care aides (HCAs) in continuing care facilities. While this funding is a welcome relief in light of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis currently facing Alberta’s continuing care sector, it is merely a half measure that does not address the root problems that have been plaguing the system for decades.
The $24.5 million advanced to operators will help to address immediate cost pressures caused by COVID-19, with funds intended to increase health care aide staffing levels. A wage top-up of an additional $2 per hour for health care aides will be provided, and up to 1000 paid student practicum positions will be added to fast track certification in order to get more staff into continuing care facilities. These measures are temporary and intended to last through the duration of this pandemic.
“While it is timely that the role of HCAs is finally being recognized as essential and valuable within our continuing care system, it does not make up for the fact that once this pandemic is over their value will be once again ignored,” says Sandra Azocar, Executive Director of Friends of Medicare. “This system has over the decades created a precarious and unequal work environment which in the long term has only served to rob vulnerable seniors of the care they require.”
While this announcement addresses the urgent needs of HCAs as a result of the pandemic, it doesn't speak to the needs of all of the other workers in the continuing care system who are just as important. Housekeepers, laundry workers, food service staff, RNs, LPNs - all are invaluable components in a care team, and all are integral for ensuring residents receive the care they need. Instead, this announcement perpetuates the inequity in pay, benefits, and workplace rights that is too often seen in these facilities.
And, while AHS provides funding to continuing care facilities for staffing, funding is provided with no strings attached, and no accountability to ensure that 100% of funding received is spent on staff. The current funding structure creates incentives for both not-for-profit, and especially for-profit providers to pursue a low wage strategy in terms of staffing. Instead, every publicly funded dollar not spent on staff compensation is a dollar diverted to profits, executive bonuses, and other operational priorities.
”People in long term care are making sacrifices to get through the pandemic. Residents are having visits restricted, and staff are coming in to work in a very volatile environment,” says Azocar.” Yet large corporations like Extendicare will still be allowed to profit during this crisis. CEOs will make millions, while vulnerable residents and dedicated staff are burdened with all the risk. This needs to stop.”
As of yesterday, April 20th, seniors residing in continuing care facilities counted for 38 deaths out of the 59 total deaths reported in Alberta. COVID-19’s toll on Alberta’s continuing care system has exposed many of the cracks that have been formed as a result of decades of privatization, and the inequity that perpetual cost-cutting has wrought. Once this pandemic is over, it is imperative that we do not return to the same old structure of continuing care that allows corporations and their shareholders to profit massively at the expense of Alberta’s seniors. Instead, this crisis must serve as a grim, yet timely indicator to our government that we need an immediate reevaluation of how we are providing seniors care in this province.
Friends of Medicare is calling on the Alberta government to regulate against profit making during COVID-19 and to mandate that all care homes in Alberta put 100% of their revenues to front line care and services, while suspending executive bonuses.
“The people of this province need to be assured that this $24.5 million is not just a blank cheque being handed to the corporations who operate our continuing care,” says Azocar. “Albertans need to know that this funding is being used to protect residents and those who provide front line care, and not just the bottom line.”
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