Making Improvements or Losing Ground?

Making Improvements or Losing Ground?

Alberta Seniors Deserve Better Long-Term Care

This article was included in our 2017 year end newsletter sent to Friends of Medicare members. We intend to publish our newsletter every year so make sure you sign up today so you can get your copy for 2018!

There's an understanding in Alberta that our continuing care system is in crisis. This was acknowledged by the Alberta NDP in the 2015 election, and more recently by the University of Alberta based Parkland Institute in their fall 2016 report "Losing Ground" by David Campanella.

The Parkland report shined a light on what Friends of Medicare has been saying for years - that public ownership and operation of long-term care was preferable to privatization, and that patients were being short changed by the growth of private providers.

"Losing Ground" suggests the benchmark for hours of care per resident per day to maintain health needs to be 4.1 hours. They then looked at Alberta's homes by delivery time and found that private-not-for-profit was falling short at just 3.0 hours per day, the for-profit sector faring slightly better at 3.1 hours, and even the public sector didn't quite make it with an average of 4.0 hours provided.

They also found inefficient use of funding as private providers spend a much larger portion on administration over front line care than the public sector. This was shown to be even more pronounced in not-for-profit organizations.

The report also states that an alarming 79% of Alberta's continuing care beds are operated by private providers.

So we know that the private sector provides less care, and is less efficient with the public funds they have been provided. Yet they are overwhelmingly the dominant players in providing care.

This is why the Alberta NDP promise for 2,000 new public long-term care beds to be built by 2019 was so important and must be kept. To date only 345 new beds have been announced, and none built yet.

Recently, the Conference Board of Canada has looked at our national needs for long-term care beds. They found that Canada will need 199,000 new beds by 2035 - nearly double current capacity.

At the same time, their economic analysis suggests building and operating these beds will create an average of 123,000 jobs per year, and add $235 billion in real GDP. The $194 billion in projected costs will be offset by $71 billion in tax revenues. 

This would also help relieve the burden on our emergency and acute care hospital beds which are often occupied by patients waiting for long-term care placement.

The economic and health needs case for building more public long-term care is strong, but we don't just need new beds, we need to do better by patients.

Alberta took a step in this direction with Bill 22 - the Resident and Family Councils Act. This bill sets legal standards for establishing councils in all continuing care facilities. It will help patients and their loved ones have a voice in the system, but still leaves many problems unsolved.

We can look to Ontario for one example of how to improve care. Their legislature is considering a private members bill from the NDP looking to legislate 4 hours of direct care per resident per day. Just 6 minutes shy of the standards reported by Parkland. 

We also need transparent information on private contracts, and wait lists to be assessed and placed into long-term care, so that patients and advocates can know how the system is performing, and how public funds are being spent.

Alberta can show they are serious about meeting seniors health needs by getting to work on 2,000 and more public long term care beds, providing transparency for private providers, and adopting higher levels of care hours. Seniors deserve better.