Alberta seniors deserve better now and moving forward

Alberta seniors deserve better now & moving forward

Seniors in Continuing Care facilities now count for over half of all COVID-19 deaths in Alberta (29 of 46). As of April 13th, the number of those who tested positive in continuing care facilities was 199 and rising. There is no data yet available as to how many workers who provide care to seniors have tested positive.

For decades, FOM and seniors’ advocates have been sounding the alarm over issues in our seniors’ care system. We have repeatedly called on governments to get profits out of seniors' care, and to enact patient-staff ratios to address unsustainable workloads which lead to burnout for the staff, and which degrade the quality of care and attention that seniors receive. We have called for an end to the increasing privatization of seniors’ care abetted by government grant programs that subsidize the building of privately owned and operated supportive living facilities. But despite our calls, we have instead seen a drop in funding such that staff are tasked with not only personal care, but housekeeping duties. This is not only an egregious misuse of much needed care staff, but now in light of COVID-19, it poses the possibility of cross contamination. We have seen a race to the bottom when it comes to providing quality care for seniors, and an ever increasing offloading of costs and care to seniors and their families.

“We are weeks into this pandemic and it is becoming more evident by the day that the chickens have come home to roost when it comes to the crisis in our seniors’ care,” indicates Sandra Azocar, Executive Director of Friends of Medicare. “For too long, our governments have largely ignored the way that we have been caring for our most vulnerable. What we are seeing now was decades in the making.”

As of April 16th, workers in long-term care and designated supportive living sites will only be allowed to work in one location. Facilities have up until April 23rd to ensure that this measure is in place. Until now, the majority of care staff have been required to move from one care site to another, as they are unable to make ends meet with the number of hours they are given in each facility. Most have multiple jobs that they move between in long-term care homes, hospitals, home care and other places, but now, staff are being instructed to choose just one part-time job with no income replacement, all while taking on personal risk to continue to help all of us through this pandemic.

“Homes already operate with severe shortages of staff, which means many seniors go without the care they need. With COVID-19, the pressures have only increased, and we are seeing the consequences in black and white,” states Azocar. “The conditions of work are the conditions of care for residents and their families.”

To support residents and staff in Alberta’s continuing care system and to curb the spread of COVID-19, Friends of Medicare is urgently calling for the following measures from our provincial government:

  • All staff must be immediately provided with personal protective equipment (PPE) in accordance with the precautionary principle, including N95 masks for those exposed to residents with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 infection. In addition, all homes must be provided with necessary support to provide training to staff in the use of PPE immediately. 
  • Given that seniors’ facilities will not be able to rely on residents’ families and/or paid companions to fill the existing staffing gaps that have been exacerbated by this pandemic, the provincial government must support the workforce to be able to work full-time whenever possible.
  • Staffing levels must be put in place so that seniors receive the care they need, and where gaps in staffing and care levels exist, the most robust possible recruitment of appropriately trained staff must be implemented as per existing regulations.
  • Provincial government resources and policy must be immediately provided to improve wages and conditions for staff, and to support the stabilization of the workforce and recruitment efforts with the provision that all operators (public, not-for-profit, and for-profit alike) be obliged to expend these funds on direct care staffing.
  • All seniors’ care facilities must be legally bound to minimum staffing levels established in relation to experts’ assessments of the levels required to ensure equality care.
  • Regular, unannounced inspection must be implemented to ensure compliance with high standards of care and safety and current health orders by the CMOH.

Even when this pandemic is lifted, and the brunt of the threat of COVID-19 has passed, the toll that it has taken on our seniors should serve as a harrowing reminder of the failure of our seniors’ care system. It will not be enough for us to return to normal, because in Alberta, our continuing care system’s normal is woefully flawed. For seniors now and for years to come, we have a responsibility to do better.