“Alberta open for business” resonates loudly in Alberta’s broken seniors’ care system –
At noon on October 7th, Friends of Medicare will be standing side by side with the 53 workers from Vegreville Century Park, as they fight to save their jobs.
All 53 workers who staff the Vegreville Century Park supportive living centre will see their employment terminated after their employer, BC-based private operator Optima Living, issued layoff notices to the workers following the decision to contract their work out to Pro-Vita, a privately-held company also based out of BC.
As a licenced care provider with Alberta Health Services (AHS) and an approved Assisted-Living Operator with Alberta Seniors, Optima living receives operational funding from AHS to hire and retain staff.
“Optima Living will now be contracting out care services that AHS pays them to provide,” says Sandra Azocar, Executive Director of Friends of Medicare. “This situation is a result of a broken funding model that lacks transparency when it comes to the public dollars that are handed to private providers, and is greatly lacking in accountability for money intended to hire and retain quality staff.”
The inconvenient reality has become that no one is minding the store when it comes to private facilities providing publicly funded services. “We taxpayers subsidize operators of seniors’ facilities to care for the most vulnerable in our society, yet there is no transparency and accountability for public funds given to private operators,” Azocar said. “When public money is used to produce even greater profit-margins instead of put towards hiring and retaining quality staff, patients and their families suffer. We understand that working conditions are care conditions.”
Alberta's Continuing Care strategy has created a system where quality of care has been seriously compromised, and will continue to be so unless the government makes a real commitment to phasing out private, for-profit elder care and expanding our public health care system to encompass continuing care services, including all residential and home-based forms of elder care.
Century Park opened in 2006 as an extension of Vegreville long-term care (LTC) centre. Built largely on volunteer hours and donations from four Vegreville families, the facility was publicly run and operated by East Central Health, one of Alberta’s then health authorities, until 2008. It was then sold to the first of three private operators who would oversee operations, and in 2017, Optima Living bought Century Park from Point West Living.
Pro Vita is not new to labour strife. Just one example was in 2008/2009, when after failing to reach an agreement with workers represented by Hospital Employees Union/CUPE HEU, it became clear that the funding provided by Chartwell Seniors’ Housing (a well known for-profit seniors’ care provider) was insufficient to pay workers who were making up to $4 less than their industry counterparts. Chartwell Seniors’ Housing was as a provider of seniors’ care in BC, and was being provided $5.5 million a year in subsidies from the Vancouver Island Health Authority to operate 85 long-term care beds at the facility.
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