Alberta's seniors continue to suffer at the expense of corporate profit
Yesterday, CBC’s investigative unit, Go Public, released a story that showcases the painful reality facing our current elder care system, revealing that an Alberta continuing care facility, Extendicare Athabasca, has been alleged to have rationed diapers, leaving incontinent residents in medical duress.
Over the last 20 years, what we have seen in our continuing care system is a successive decline in staffing levels. We have seen deregulation, competency downgrading, and a serious failure of public accountability across all continuing care settings and services. In Alberta, elder care has become one of the most lucrative private investment opportunities, and a fertile ground for profit. The operating profit margin for private nursing and residential care facilities in Alberta was 9.8% in 2017 and 10.4% in 2018. While our seniors sit in soiled pads, in 2018, Extendicare distributed dividends of $42.4 million revenues of $1.1 billion.
“When elder care facilities do not have enough staff, resources and public oversight to meet the needs of residents, it leaves our elders at risk,” says Sandra Azocar, Executive Director of Friends of Medicare. “This is a story of what happens when as a society we value profit over people.”
Unfortunately, this trend will continue in this province, unless we can find the political will to reverse it and do what is right for Alberta’s seniors. The recent EY review of Alberta Health Services (AHS) recommended that “AHS should reconsider [long term care] facility ownership in cases where private delivery may be more efficient and appropriate.” They want to oversee the sale of AHS subsidiaries, CapitalCare and Carewest long term care (LTC), and the 4,604 LTC spaces that they administer. Further, EY has predicted $32 million in savings by reassessing 1,300 seniors that are currently receiving LTC and moving them to lower levels of care, where there is less staffing to provide services.
“Albertans must take heed that our current government wants to expand the role of private providers and continue to allow for profit companies to benefit from the vulnerability of seniors,” says Azocar.
We are in the midst of a continuing care crisis, but profit is not the cure. The solution lies in strengthening and expanding our publicly funded, publicly delivered continuing care system. We need to strengthen our community and home care programs so that those who need assistance to safely remain at home can do so; and we need our federal government to create and implement national standards of care so that seniors and chronic care patients have high quality, appropriate care provided for them regardless of where they live in Canada.
“When private, for-profit systems are allowed to operate largely behind closed doors and in the interest of shareholders, it is bound to negatively impact patient care,” continues Azocar. “We need to stop letting large companies make a profit at the expense of our seniors and chronic care patients.”
Albertans deserve better from their government. As the government reviews current legislation that oversees the continuing care system, we must demand that they recognize that their economic policy decisions have real life impacts on Albertan seniors and their families, and stop the rampant privatization of our elder care.
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