Government once again fails to put in measures to immediately meet the health care capacity crisis

Government once again fails to put in measures to immediately meet the health care capacity crisis

September 10, 2021

Government once again fails to put in measures to immediately meet the health care capacity crisis

Yesterday’s announcement from Health Minister Tyler Shandro regarding our health care system capacity failed to introduce any new public health measures to address the growing number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the province.

As Alberta reported 1,510 new cases, a positivity rate of 11 percent, and 154 people currently in ICU, the government’s announcement failed to provide any clear direction to limit the spread of infection, or to alleviate the worsening strain on our health care system capacity. According to Dr Verna Yiu, President and CEO of Alberta Health Services, even after opening surge beds to deal with high rates of hospitalizations in Alberta’s fourth wave, the province’s ICUs are now operating at 87 percent capacity. Our ICUs are currently at more than 130 percent of their normal capacity, due to a rise in COVID-related hospitalizations that the government failed to anticipate or prepare us for.

“Over the past few weeks, Albertans have sat and watched in horror as we continue to move in the wrong direction,” says Sandra Azocar, Executive Director of Friends of Medicare. “Instead of being provided with a clear plan forward, or indeed, any semblance of hope yesterday, we saw absolutely nothing to indicate that we can expect to find any leadership from our current government any time soon.”

The government indicated that they are attempting to alleviate the critical pressure on our health care system capacity by:

  1. Cancelling and delaying surgeriesabout which we have already been hearing stories as to how surgery postponements are having life-altering impacts on Albertans; and
  2. Handing more money over to private, contracted home care agencies.

Minister Shandro announced the government would be providing $22 million for private home care agencies for a temporary $2 wage increase to health care aides over the next 13 months, as well as an additional $14 million to be provided to hire more workers over the next two years. This funding will potentially see that 400 individuals who are currently waiting in hospital for long term care and other levels of care will be able to be moved to the community and/or to a continuing care facility, with the ultimate goal of freeing up much-needed hospital capacity. Unfortunately, this is a two year initiative, and the wage increase is a temporary measure for these workers. 

Albertans sitting in hospitals while awaiting placement in community or facility-based continuing care has been an ongoing problem that has long been ignored by our governments. But many years of increasing privatization of this integral part of our health care system has resulted in a precarious and undervalued workforce, and a system that no longer has the flexibility required to handle emergencies. 

Much like in our continuing care system, private home care operators make their profits by providing the least care to patients or the lowest pay to home care workers that they can get away with. Now, the health care pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed our need for these vital care workers, but rather than working to improve and expand our public system, and reverse the privatization that got us into this mess, the government is merely putting a short-term bandaid over a long-standing problem.

“Once again, Albertans are left holding the bag as we see this government attempting to solve our health care issues by throwing ever more money at the private sector,” says Azocar. “Rather than actually dealing with the immediate health crisis that we are currently experiencing, the government is merely furthering their never-ending agenda of the aggressive privatization of our health care system.”

As per mounting warnings from health care workers across the province, it is clear that our health care system is nearing its breaking point. Friends of Medicare joins calls from Alberta’s health care workers and experts in demanding urgent action from our government, and to immediately reinstate the following:

  • Notification of COVID-positive cases to schools;
  • Province-wide contact tracing; and,
  • Testing of asymptomatic and close contact cases
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