Senior's primary care is more essential than ever during COVID-19
If the current COVID-19 pandemic can teach us anything, it is the importance of a strong public health care and a strong primary care system. Whether it be a foreseeable shift in demographic health needs, like in the case of Alberta’s steadily aging population, or an unexpected outbreak of a virus, like COVID-19, our health system needs to be able to provide quality, timely care to everyone who needs it. What we don't need, now more than ever, is the closure of our much needed health resources, or the layoffs of our vital health care workers.
Approximately two weeks ago, Sage Seniors Association in central Edmonton gave notice to the 500 seniors who are patients at Sage Health Services, that they would be ceasing all operations as of March 31st, 2020. For the past two years, this program has provided onsite community collaborative care for seniors, without fees. Sage is centrally-located, nearby to where a large number of seniors reside, while seniors with mobility issues were able to be picked up at their homes and taken to their appointments via bus. It provided seniors access to nurse practitioners, physiotherapists, mental health therapists, pharmacists and health navigators. These workers will be laid off at the end of the month.
“We have heard stories from seniors and their families about how difficult it can be to access care in the city, and how Sage Health Services has greatly improved their health and their overall quality of life,” said Sandra Azocar, Executive Director of Friends of Medicare. “Now that it's closing, many of them will have nowhere else to go, and they are worried about their health deteriorating to worse than it was before.”
In the long term, this is a devastating loss for seniors. In the short term, however, we have a very real potential that our overall health care system could be overwhelmed by the ongoing and worsening COVID-19 pandemic. For a demographic that is at such a high risk when it comes to this health care crisis, this closure could not have come at a worse time.
The government has indicated that the Alberta Health grant that has funded Sage Health Services for the past two years is being discontinued due to high operating costs of the program. However, this does not take into account the downstream savings from providing quality, timely primary care – especially when it comes to seniors. With the closure of this program, we will no doubt see increased, avoidable costs in the form of emergency care, acute care, and residential seniors' care. This is not to mention the human costs of this closure, which are unquantifiable.
“This clinic was a unique, transformational and multidisciplinary project that was successfully accessed by some of our city’s most vulnerable, including seniors who are homeless, or are at a high risk of homelessness,” said Azocar. “The closure will mean that more than 500 Albertans, many with very complex health needs, will lose access to the primary care that they rely on. It's unacceptable.”
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Enclosure: Sage Health Services program participant notice letter.