July 9, 2021
Continuing care announcement is the “no-money miracle’ approach
Today, Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced the allocation of $400 million in operational funding over four years, for 6,000 continuing care beds across the province. Of these, 2,200 will be new beds, and the remaining 3,800 will be refurbished or renovated from existing “underutilized” spaces in private facilities.
“This announcement was more of the same old, repackaged with a no-money miracle as a selling point,” says Sandra Azocar, Executive Director of Friends of Medicare. “It’s just more proof that this government lacks any type of innovative and new approaches when it comes to providing care to the people who need it.”
As part of the government’s so-called “new approach” to continuing care, they opened a bidding process for private continuing care operators last September, to identify “underutilized spaces” in existing buildings to become publicly-funded, privately-delivered continuing care beds. As per today’s announcement, the government received 189 submissions, out of which 73 proposals were accepted. 5 contracts have already been awarded, and another 6 are expected to be awarded in coming weeks.
The refurbishment and renovation of beds will supposedly be paid for by operators. Of concern is the recommendation made in the government’s Facility-Based Continuing Care review which would allow operators to freely increase accommodation fees as they see fit, effectively passing any costs onto seniors and their families.
"Businesses seeking to profit from their industry don't want to undercut their revenues by spending more than they bring in," says Azocar. “In another industry in which seniors’ lives and wellbeing aren’t on the line, this might be considered business savvy; in continuing care, it is morally reprehensible.”
The next phase of the government’s continuing care plan is to include capital grants under “ASLI 2.0.” Currently ASLI (Affordable Supportive Living Initiative), allows the government to split construction costs between the operators and the province, followed by operational costs to run private and non-profit facilities. The province does not own the buildings, and when contracts expire, the public is first in line to buy the buildings back—at market price.
It has long been a bad deal for Albertans, and worse, has contributed to the creation of multi-million dollar corporations, and the commodification of seniors as these companies’ lucrative source of profit.
“The initiative has resulted in the aggressive privatization of Alberta’s continuing care system, and the erosion of higher-acuity long-term care (LTC) in favour of expanding the more lucrative and under-regulated designated supportive living (DSL) facilities,” says Azocar. “After all seniors have been through over the past 16 months, it’s inconceivable that this government hasn’t so much as paused their destructive approach. What we’re seeing today is simply a continuation of the same old continuing care system which treats seniors as commodities, and has resulted in the potentially avoidable deaths of more than a thousand Albertan seniors. We can’t continue to subsidize a broken system.”
Despite the disproportional impact that COVID-19 has had on seniors in residential continuing care, this government has given no indication that they intend to deviate from their privatization agenda. To date, 1,305 residents of Alberta continuing care facilities have died of COVID-19, while for-profit operators have received over $200 million in government funding to offset “revenue losses” as a result of COVID-19.
Moreover, there was no mention of the levels of care that the announced beds will provide. The need for higher levels of care is well documented, yet there was no indication as to how this approach is intended to address these needs. While Minister Shandro acknowledged ongoing concerns with seniors having to stay in hospital due to the lack of beds in the continuing care system, he failed to note that the majority of those seniors are awaiting higher levels of care that are currently available in our continuing care system.
“The government is flat out refusing to learn the grim lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic, or to take this as an opportunity to reassess and re-think the clearly broken manner in which we provide care for seniors,” says Azocar. “It’s frankly an insult to the seniors of this province and their families.”
As has been made devastatingly clear this past year, we have a responsibility to put seniors before profits. Friends of Medicare will continue to call for an end to profit in continuing care, and for it to ultimately be brought under the public umbrella. We must ensure all seniors finally have good access to the quality continuing care they need and deserve, now and in the years to come.
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