This October 1st marks the 30th anniversary of the International Day of Older Persons. This year, as we contend with the ongoing upheaval caused by the COVID-19 global health crisis, we must also bear witness to the suffering caused by the long-standing failures of our seniors’ care system.
Seniors have suffered the greatest impact of the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide, and Alberta is no exception. To date 97% of COVID-related deaths have been Albertans aged 60 or older, including 165 residents in continuing care. In July, the Royal Society of Canada found that 81% of COVID-19 deaths nationwide were residents of long-term care homes—a rate far outpacing other countries. Further, the worst impacts have occurred in for-profit facilities, which have been found to have had “more extensive outbreaks and more deaths” than public facilities. COVID-19 has exposed the many shortcomings of our seniors’ care system, borne of decades of privatization and the inequity that perpetual cost-cutting has wrought. What we are seeing now was decades in the making.
Carol Wodak of the Seniors’ Action and Liaison team explained the ramifications of this constant attack on seniors’ care: “80% of COVID-19 deaths were seniors in care facilities. They died, not because of their age, but because their care and accommodation were unsafe. Mr. Kenney’s insistence that their average age was 83, whereas average life expectancy is 82 is just blaming the victims. At age 80, StatsCan tells me I can expect to live another 10 years.”
It is not enough to merely mark a day on the calendar, or make disingenuous and empty recognitions of the invaluable contributions that seniors have made. Today, we want to make it very clear that we, as a province, have been negligent in the care of our seniors, as evidenced by the Premier’s callous remarks. Seniors deserve better.
In March 2019, Friends of Medicare and Public Interest Alberta launched the joint campaign, Alberta Seniors Deserve Better, to advance solutions to the problems facing seniors in our continuing care system. With this campaign, the organizations called for changes to ensure that all seniors finally gain access to care that meets their health and social needs within their home communities. We urge the Alberta government to:
- Get profits out of seniors’ care;
- Build a system that is easy to access and navigate;
- Legislate staff-to-patient ratios, and;
- Stop offloading the cost of essential items onto residents.
In the months that followed, COVID-19 has rendered these issues all the more urgent, while the inaction of our governments has made it eminently clear that the health care needs of senior Albertans are considered of very low priority.
“Six months of caring for residents in long-term care has been very hard. We worry about our residents, we worry about getting our families infected,” says long-term care worker Liberty Pestano. “Other provinces have done more to support long-term care services. B.C. standardized and centralized staffing, and other provinces funded better pay and recognition for front line workers.”
Today, Public Interest Alberta and Friends of Medicare are proud to stand alongside our allied seniors’ organizations to release our "Priorities for Alberta Seniors,” outlining long-overdue actions that must immediately be implemented in our seniors’ care system.
“COVID-19 should be an eye-opener for our governments; we must take this public health crisis as an opportunity to scrutinize the ways we have failed seniors in care, and to finally enact the changes that are necessary to ensure the older persons of this province can live with the dignity they deserve. We must not allow this moment to pass us by,” says Joel French, Executive Director of Public Interest Alberta.
The myriad issues and injustices facing the province’s seniors are a problem with a solution. “As seniors live longer, they often face complex health issues,” says Judy Lederer, President of the Edmonton Area Council of the Congress of Union Retirees of Canada. “The implementation of single payer universal national pharmacare would save lives and save money. No senior should have to forego essential medicines because of financial barriers."
“We are calling for a fundamental cultural change in seniors' care, a move away from the culture of corporatization." says Sandra Azocar, Executive Director of Friends of Medicare. "We are calling for changes in provincial policy to reflect the values of public health care, to embrace clear provincial standards that will improve access to care, and to establish ways of assessing the quality of care that our seniors receive."