It's Christmas in May for contracted operators of continuing care centres

It's Christmas in May for contracted operators of continuing care centres

Yesterday, the Alberta government announced that they would be committing an additional $170 million for AHS-contracted continuing care facilities, to offset the loss of ‘revenues’ that have resulted from this pandemic. The announcement indicated that this funding is intended to be used for enhanced staffing and additional cleaning supplies, as well as to compensate continuing care providers for lost accommodation revenue. A total of $14.2 million will be provided every month, retroactive to March 15th, and until orders from Alberta's Chief Medical Officer of Health have been lifted.

Although the government said there would be a “requirement to report on the use of these funds,” and that facilities will need to “return money not spent on COVID-related purposes,” there was absolutely no indication that this reporting will be made public. “Albertans will need to see that funds were used to address staff shortages and improve resident care,” says Sandra Azocar, Executive Director of Friends of Medicare. “Public money should not be going to bankroll profits or executive bonuses — Albertans should not be subsidizing private corporations to provide care to our seniors.”

The funding announced yesterday comes in addition to the $24.5 million for continuing care operators that was announced in April, to help address immediate cost pressures due to COVID-19. This funding was intended to go towards increasing health care aide staffing levels, to provide a $2 wage top-up for health care aides, and to fund 1000 paid student practicum positions to fast-track certification and get more staff into continuing care facilities. “Instead, what we hear from care workers they have not actually received the $2 wage top-up, and that their workload has not been eased by any real increase in staffing levels,” says Azocar.

Alberta’s broken continuing care system the direct result of decades of privatization and a funding structure that creates incentives for both not-for-profits, and especially for-profit providers to underpay their staff and understaff their facilities. While AHS provides ongoing funding to seniors' facilities for staffing care workers, these funds come with no strings attached, and no way to ensure that 100% is spent on those staff. “This lack of accountability and transparency has been a disastrous mismanagement of public dollars,” says Azocar. “What we have seen play out in these facilities over the years is that a funded dollar not spent on staff compensation is a dollar to be diverted to profits, executive bonuses, and other operational priorities. And it's the seniors who suffer.”

The toll this pandemic has taken on our seniors should have been a wake-up call as to the failure of our seniors’ care system. “We cannot continue to subsidize a broken system.” continues Azocar. “We clearly need to do better, yet what we are seeing is AHS and this government irresponsibly trying to return to the same way of doing business. It’s unacceptable and it must stop.”

If we have learned anything from this pandemic, it is that we urgently need to fix our seniors care system. Seniors deserve better than to be treated as commodities for others to profit from.  

Friends of Medicare urgently call on this government to:

  • Make reporting on this funding public.
  • Conduct an independent inquiry on seniors’ care in this province, and establish a plan to overhaul a system in crisis.
  • Legislate staff-to-patient ratios to address staff shortages and ensure quality care.
  • Eliminate profit from seniors' care by transitioning away from private ownership.
  • Work with the federal government to create a national seniors’ strategy with parallel legislation to the Canadian Health Act, and national standards to ensure ALL seniors have access to the care they need and deserve.