By Elise Stolte, Edmonton JournalEDMONTON - Fees for seniors in long-term care facilities will increase five-per-cent, the province announced Thursday.During the Conservative leadership race, Premier Alison Redford mused about removing the cap to encourage more private investment in the industry. Thursdayâ��s move still limits what private companies can charge, but the cap will be raised by about $80/month starting Jan. 1.It means someone in a semi-private room will pay $1,545 a month.Seniors Minister George VanderBurg said the change was meant to help operators cope with increasing labour and food costs, but advocates for seniors worry about a â��slow squeezeâ�� on the most fragile members of society.â��I do understand that if you donâ��t raise the rent levels, you donâ��t have money to do maintenance, but thereâ��s a group there theyâ��re squeezing very badly,â�� said Gary Pool, president of the Alberta Council on Aging.Noel Somerville, chairman of the seniors task force for Public Interest Alberta, said "the people weâ��re talking about are the frailest and sickest.â��About 8,300 of the 14,500 Albertans in long-term care are getting Alberta Seniors Benefit or Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped. They will see increases to offset the five-per-cent increase in fees, the province said. The threshold that determines who is eligible for the Alberta Seniors Benefit will not be changed.â��Itâ��s the lowest of the low income that theyâ��ve actually maintained. Anyone thatâ��s just above that level will be squeezed even further. Thatâ��s the group that really going to suffer,â�� Pool said.In addition, the seniors benefit has not increased enough to keep up with inflation.In long-term care facilities, residents cover the cost of room and board while Alberta Health Services covers on-site nursing. The rate last increased in February 2011, when it rose three per cent.Januaryâ��s increase came after consultation with facility operators, said VanderBurg. â��We did a pretty in-depth review through the ministry with providers, and without a doubt, we had to increase the charge,â�� he said.â��Itâ��s a combination of the cost of upkeep on the facilities, the cost of meals and meal service â�� nobody wants to work for less, year after year. Housekeeping services, social activities, routine maintenance, itâ��s no different than at your home or business.â��Alberta has wrestled with a shortage of long-term care beds. As of Sept. 14, there were 341 seniors tying up hospital beds as they waited for a placement, and 355 seniors waiting in the community.The province opened 165 new long-term care beds in the past fiscal year.Since the provincial election, Redfordâ��s government has avoided saying whether it will eliminate the cap on long-term care fees.VanderBurg said if the province makes that move, it wonâ��t be a surprise. They will consult with the Alberta Seniors Housing Association and other care associations, he said. â��They would be the first to know. But we havenâ��t gone down that route. Weâ��re quite happy working with the program we have.â��After Thursdayâ��s announcement, NDP Leader Brian Mason said he expect more increases. â��If you raise the cap, you can keep going up and up,â�� he said.â��We will see more increases. Itâ��s inevitable given the strategy theyâ��re following. They want the private sector to build for-profit, long-term care facilities and that requires a lot more money.If private operators â��are going to make money, if they are going to invest and take the risk, they are going to need seniors to pay a whole lot more,â�� he said. â��Thatâ��s the folly of the government strategy for long-term care.â��Alberta Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman said the â��last time we had a significant increase in fees for long-term care, then minister Gary Mar promised everyone in long-term care they were going to get fresh fruit and better food."They didnâ��t get fresh fruit or better food,â�� she said. â��What happened was the government just gave fewer grants to the locations and they made up the difference with the increase in the long-term care fees. This is definitely a drive to make the private operators happier and it will not result in any better care for the people actually in them.â��With files from Karen Kleiss
By Elise Stolte, Edmonton [email protected]
twitter.com/estolteThis article was published in the Edmonton Journal on September 28, 2012. Read the full article on the Edmonton Journal website.