Shocking outbreak numbers highlight government's failure to protect seniors during Omicron wave

Shocking outbreak numbers highlight government's failure to protect seniors during Omicron wave
January 27, 2022

Shocking outbreak numbers highlight government's failure to protect seniors during Omicron wave

Over 100 positive COVID-19 cases in Chartwell Griesbach Retirement Residence – just one of hundreds of outbreaks in Long Term Care and Designated Supportive Living facilities in Alberta

The fifth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is having a devastating impact on our communities, our health care system and our seniors’ care system. As with each prior wave, it is the residents and workers of continuing care facilities who are bearing the brunt of this burden. As of January 25, the Government of Alberta COVID-19 Outbreak Tracker shows 110 Long-Term Care Facilities and 195 Supporting Living Facilities with active COVID-19 outbreaks. While the government’s tracker does not show the number of staff or residents impacted in each of these outbreaks, documents obtained by Friends of Medicare show that at least one facility has surpassed 100 positive cases.

“It is shocking to learn that over 100 residents and staff in Chartwell Griesbach Retirement Residence tested positive for COVID-19, especially knowing that this is just one of hundreds of current outbreaks in seniors’ facilities,” said Chris Gallaway, Executive Director of Friends of Medicare. “This government has taken no action to keep seniors safe during this devasting fifth wave, in fact, they are moving forward with rolling back protections. Our provincial government is once again failing Alberta and failing seniors.”
In early December, the UCP government announced they would be phasing out the Single-Site Order by February 16th, just 3 weeks from today. The Single-Site Order was implemented in the early stages of the pandemic to limit employees in continuing care homes to a single workplace in order to prevent spread between sites. 
“The government is moving forward with phasing out the Single-Site Order even as Omicron cases continue to explode across the province, and throughout our long-term care and supportive living facilities,” said Gallaway. “The Single-Site Order should be extended to protect seniors and their caregivers in the immediate term. But more than that, the government needs to act to address the core systemic issues of why it was needed in the first place.”
Seniors care in Alberta has long been at the mercy of privatization and perpetual cost-cutting, wherein private, for-profit continuing care operators prioritize a return on investment for their shareholders over ensuring quality care for the residents who depend on them. Decades of aggressive privatization has resulted in a system that is chronically understaffed and under-resourced, and which was woefully unprepared to contend with the added pressures of COVID-19. 
“Even prior to this pandemic, care homes already operated with severe staff shortages, which meant that many seniors went without the care they needed. Many workers in the sector have to work at multiple health care and continuing care facilities just to make ends meet,” said Gallaway. 
“The real issue here is the privatization of our seniors’ care in Alberta and the lack of value that we place on the workers in the system. It’s outrageous that the workers tasked with providing essential care to our seniors can’t make a living by working at just one facility, yet the government is doing nothing to protect them or their residents,” said Gallaway. “The human toll of COVID-19 should be proof enough of the failure of our seniors’ care system. We’re long overdue for a major change in how we do things in Alberta by moving to a public continuing care model that finally prioritizes seniors over private profits.”
Friends of Medicare is calling on Alberta Health Services and the government to immediately address issues facing seniors care in this province by delaying the repeal of the Single-Site Order, and we are once again demanding the following:
  • The implementation of staffing levels so that seniors receive the care they need, and, where gaps in staffing and care levels exist, the implementation of the most robust possible recruitment of appropriately trained staff, as per existing regulations.
  • Provincial government resources and policy must be immediately provided to improve wages and conditions for staff, and to support the stabilization of the workforce and recruitment efforts with the provision that all operators (public, not-for-profit, and for-profit alike) be obliged to expend these funds on direct care staffing.
  • All seniors’ care facilities must be legally bound to minimum staffing levels established in relation to experts’ assessments of the levels required to ensure quality care.

Friends of Medicare received copies of memos sent to Chartwell Griesbach Retirement Residents informing them of the positive COVID-19 case counts. You can see them here.
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