Alberta seniors call for better care and profits out of long-term care homes

A group of seniors rallied in downtown Edmonton Thursday morning, using the Alberta legislature as a backdrop to demand improvements to seniors’ care.

Members of Friends of Medicare, Public Interest Alberta, Seniors’ Action and Liaison Team and Alberta Federation of Union Retirees gathered to mark International Day of Older Persons.

Just steps away, Alberta Seniors and Housing Minister Josephine Pon raised a flag to commemorate the day recognized by the United Nations since 1990.

During the flag raising, seniors chanted, “seniors deserve better” and “why were we not invited?”

The minister said the day is an annual event and anyone is welcome to attend — just as the group of seniors did Thursday morning.

Sandra Azocar, executive director with Friends of Medicare, said she wanted the event to be more than just a day marked on the calendar.

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In March 2019, Friends of Medicare and Public Interest Alberta launched the campaign Seniors Deserve Better.

The advocate groups point to seniors who have suffered because of the COVID-19 pandemic and said to date, 97 per cent of COVID-related deaths in the province have been Albertans aged 60 or older.

“One of the biggest cracks we have seen is the fact of the lack of the staff-to-patient ratios,” said Azocar.

“That has caused a lot of chaos in the system under this pandemic where we didn’t have enough staff.”

Read more: ‘From here to the box’: Seniors voice terrifying concerns on long-term care amid COVID-19

Friends of Medicare said it is pushing for a legislated four-to-one hour direct care ratio for patients and staff.

“Up until this point, this government has relied heavily on family to provide hands-on care. That should not be the case,” stressed Azocar, “we should have had a plan in place prior to this pandemic to have enough staff.”

It also wants the UCP government to restructure the way it delivers seniors care and eliminate private management of long-term care and continuing-care homes.

“The continuing-care system includes home care which is another area where we have seen privatization,” said Azocar.

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“It’s one of the best kept secrets in this province about how much privatization we’ve seen in that area.”

Azocar said profit has reduced the quality of care for seniors in this province.

“The owners of these facilities are accountable to their shareholders and not the seniors they are providing care to.”

Minister Pon said her department is listening and pointed to a joint review with the health ministry.

“We are working closely with them and currently they are working, reviewing those privatizations and all of those benefits for the seniors,” said Pon.

That review was launched by Health Minister Tyler Shandro in February 2020. It it not solely focused on private facilities, said Shandro’s press secretary, but rather the entire sector and system — including how the system performed in the pandemic.

The report is expected by fall 2021.

Read more: Higher fees, more privatization highlight recommendations on Alberta’s long-term care system

Carol Wodak with Seniors’ Action and Liaison Team said the UCP government, just like its predecessors, has failed seniors.

She pointed to Premier Jason Kenney’s previous comments about the average age of death from COVID in Alberta being 83 — while the average life expectancy is 82.

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Read more: Critics describe Premier Jason Kenney’s COVID-19 speech as ‘Trumpian’

“They died not because of their age but because their care and accommodation were unsafe,” said Wodak.

“At age 80, StatsCan tells me I can expect to live another 10 years.”

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