Bed shortages and backlogs can be addressed with partnerships, says Tory leadership candidate
By Karen Kleiss, Edmonton JournalAlberta should team up with religious groups to fund nursing-home construction and operation as Alberta braces for a grey tsunami that will push its seniors’ population to nearly one million over the next 15 years, says Tory leadership candidate Jim Prentice.Prentice’s mother died 10 months ago after she lived for a decade in a provincial seniors’ lodge, and Prentice said he’s not satisfied with Alberta’s clogged eldercare system. He pledged to overhaul the existing Alberta Supportive Living Initiative (ASLI), which currently pays for construction of at least 800 new units each year.“We need to proceed at almost twice that speed, just to keep pace,” he said. “We would partner not only with the private sector, but we would also partner with faith communities.”He pointed to the Chinese Christian Wing Kei Nursing Home in Calgary and the Tuoi Hac Golden Age Manor in Edmonton as “model facilities that we should be trying to replicate.” Prentice said he has vetted the idea with Christian, Jewish, Sikh and Buddhist groups.“Since time immemorial it has been our faith communities that have provided compassionate care to our senior citizens,” he said. “And indeed, if you look back at some of the finest facilities in Alberta, they began as faith-based initiatives…(in) partnership with government.”He highlighted the dire bed shortages in some parts of rural Alberta and slammed the practice of placing married seniors in separate facilities where space is available, calling it “unacceptable.”The province hasn’t built enough infrastructure to keep up with the exploding population, he said. “We need more facilities across the province.”Rival candidate Thomas Lukaszuk said Alberta must partner with ethnic and cultural communities to build homes for seniors who need care. The Vietnamese community in his Edmonton-Castle Downs constituency raised millions to help fund the construction of the Golden Age Manor, Lukaszuk noted.“Many individuals for whom English is a second language revert to the language of their childhood…These seniors are significantly happier eating their own food, hearing their own language, practicing their own culture,” Lukaszuk said. “It’s hard to quantify, but I think this saves us money — a happier senior is a healthier senior.”Lukaszuk would also revisit the continuing-care classification scheme, saying he is “convinced the funding formulas and the way we classify seniors and their levels of need — and the way dollars follow — is simply unrealistic.”“Every senior is different,” he said. “From a human perspective, (the formula) is unacceptable, but it’s also unacceptable from a financial perspective.”Seniors advocates have long urged government to staff more long-term care beds, provide increased access to home care services and to establish a universal pharmacare program for seniors.Noel Somerville, chair of the seniors’ task force at Public Interest Alberta, says there are currently about half a million seniors living in Alberta, about 20,000 of whom need facility-based care — a number that will grow dramatically in the coming decades.“We only have about 14,000 long-term care beds in this province,” Somerville said. “There is a chronic shortage of long-term care beds, and people are being shipped all over the place to access services.”“Home care is also a very critical issue,” he said, and, “Canada is the only country with a publicly funded universal health-care system that doesn’t include coverage for prescription drugs.”Prentice made no commitment on pharmacare, but said he is concerned about seniors’ prescription costs. He promised to retrofit all seniors’ facilities with sprinklers over three years and improve the quality of home care in Alberta.Lukaszuk said home care services in Alberta are “simply inadequate,” and seniors are forced into expensive care facilities when less-costly home care services might have helped them stay at home longer.“Most seniors want to stay at home as long as they possibly can,” he said.Both Prentice and Lukaszuk pledged to implement recommendations from the Health Quality Council investigation report into seniors’ issues released in June.Candidate Ric McIver was not available for comment, but spokeswoman Heather Massel said McIver will give seniors a place at the cabinet table.“He is committed to making the seniors’ ministry a fully fledged ministry, not just an associate minister,” Massel said. “It’s a recognition of the fact that seniors, as a group, are going to be bigger than what an associate ministry can handle.”He will also do away with the $250 computerized DRIVEABLE cognitive test that is currently used to decide whether a senior is able to drive, and reinstate the use of traditional road tests.