This article was originally published in the Edmonton Journal on November 9, 2010
By Karen Kleiss
Two months before Alberta’s first baby boomers turn 65, the province has no concrete plan to address the expected surge in demand for health care, housing and financial support, critics of a new report say. The province on Monday released the Aging Population Policy Framework, a 60-page document outlining “strategic policy directions” for seniors’ care and support in Alberta.
It suggests in part that the government must encourage Albertans to save for retirement, foster support for seniors in the workplace and support more affordable housing, senior’s transportation and elder- abuse prevention initiatives. However, the framework creates no new policies or programs.
Bill Moore-Kilgannon of Public Interest Alberta said the plan rehashes everything Albertans already know about what needs to be done for seniors, and does nothing to move the province forward. “What’s new here? What are they going to change?…I’m not seeing any commitment to real investment over the long term, to address the needs of seniors,” Moore-Kilgannon said.
He said the province continues to close long-term-care beds that support frail, elderly people who need medical care and instead supports the construction of assisted-living facilities where seniors pay for medical services.“If you’re healthy and you want to live in a community and you have the resources, supportive living and assisted living can be fine,” he said. “The problem comes when you’re not healthy, and there are bottlenecks, and you can’t get the care you need.”
Over the next 10 years, the number of Albertans over 65 is expected to grow from just over 400,000 to nearly 650,000, the report says. By the time the last boomer becomes a senior citizen in 2031, one in five Albertans will be eligible for seniors’ discounts.“This demographic reality will have profound and lasting economic and social implications for our province,” the report says. “It will require action on the part of government, the private and non-profit sectors, communities, families and individuals.”
Seniors and Community Services Minister Mary Anne Jablonski said the framework is a first step toward making sure all government departments that have a hand in seniors’ care understand the principles that will drive policies and programs.“What we want to do is make sure we’re working together to make the right decisions for our seniors, knowing that we don’t have an opportunity to make mistakes,” she said. “We have to have the right plans in place to support seniors going into the future.”
The framework “doesn’t make those decisions, it just tells us, these are the decisions we need to make, and how we need to make them.” Funding decisions will be made as policies are developed, she said.The plan sets out eight strategic policy directions.
The first deals with money, and suggests Albertans aren’t saving enough to retire and may find themselves working past 65. The document outlines the need to raise awareness about the cost of retirement and to encourage saving. It also recommends providing career services for mature workers and helping employers accommodate a “multi-generational workforce.”
The financial plan also calls for regular reviews of eligibility criteria for senior’s programs.Three of the priorities address the needs for affordable housing and health care. They identify a need to develop affordable housing units and to facilitate “reasonable government-funded home support services to those seniors who need them.”The other directions are:Supporting senior drivers and providing affordable transportation when driving is no longer an option.Increasing awareness and prevention of elder abuse.
Making sure seniors have easy access to government services.Building “age-friendly” communities.The framework is based on research completed in 2008 by the Demographic Planning Commission, which consulted 100 stakeholder groups and conducted an online survey in which 10,000 Albertans participated. The commission’s work took six months and cost taxpayers $193,000.