Move estimated to save $18 million a year
By Jamie Komarnicki, Calgary HeraldAlberta Health Services administrator Janet Davidson says she believes in the merit of consolidating the province’s numerous home care contracts but the process has to be handled appropriately.Davidson, tasked by Health Minister Fred Horne to review the superboard’s abrupt changes to home-care delivery, told the Herald she expects to complete her recommendations “very shortly.”The authority took public heat over the changes, announced last month, that would replace home care services now delivered by a network of 72 agencies with 13 organizations, in a bid to save about $18 million a year.Last week, with concerns escalating about the system overhaul, Horne ordered Davidson to review the changes. However, he later clarified that Davidson’s examination wasn’t meant to reverse the AHS decision, but to see if the changes would hinder the care of particular patients now served by unique agencies.According to Davidson, groups that lost their contracts with AHS are able to appeal, and the process may lead to some changes.“I think there’s some benefits to consolidation, but it has to be done in a thoughtful way, and you have to make sure that whatever you’re doing is in the best interest of the clients you’re serving,” she added, in an interview last week.AHS says its decision will standardize home care delivery and save money.The changes have drawn fire from seniors advocates and not-for-profit agencies fearing AHS is embracing a private, corporate model that places contracts in the hands of a few big companies — leading to lower staff wages and poor care.Calgary Family Services CEO Sue Mallon said her agency wrestled over whether to fight for its lost contract or to do what it could to smooth the transition to new providers for their vulnerable clients. “At a certain point, we had a big moral decision: do we fight for our turf because we know we’re really highly rated, or do we do everything in our power to make sure the clients and staff have as soft as landing as possible?”The organization’s $8-million contract with AHS for home care provided about half its business.Mallon said a debriefing discussion was scheduled with the superboard to discuss why her agency didn’t get the contract. However, the meeting was interrupted by the massive June floods and hasn’t been rescheduled.“We were left kind of falling through the cracks. We didn’t formally appeal because we didn’t have enough information to do that,” she said.Mallon said most of their work has now been handed to Bayshore Healthcare, an Ontario-based company and one of two organizations AHS has said successfully bid for the contracts.In June, AHS said Bayshore’s deal was worth $136 million, while CBI’s was pegged at up to $235 million.Mallon said Calgary Family Services has done what it can to find new jobs for its 200 home care staff at Bayshore, including distributing the new company’s hiring material.It’s been less than six weeks since she found out her company lost the bid, and with more than half of staff already departed, the changes have been overwhelming, she said.“We’ll be like a ghost town on our floor.”Mallon said she’s now focused on the practical considerations of losing half the agency’s business, including dealing with its downtown lease and improving its other social outreach tools.AHS plans to release information about the providers contracted to deliver home care once Davidson’s review is complete and any appeals are wrapped up.Noel Somerville, chairman of the seniors task force for Public Interest Alberta, is pushing Horne to reverse the consolidation. He said he is disappointed to see Davidson indicate she also believes putting the services in the hands of a few companies makes sense.“I think the action Alberta Health Services took was precipitous,” he said.“They’ve been toying with a lot of people’s lives.”With files from Postmedia Newsjkomarnicki@calgaryherald.comRead this article at The Calgary Herald.