Today, Premier Rachel Notley announced that if re-elected, the Alberta New Democratic Party is committed to building an additional 2,000 long term care (LTC) beds. The promised $170 million investment is welcome news to a system that is currently facing serious shortages.
In the area of seniors’ care, we have seen decades of accessibility issues and a serious inadequacy from our governments in forecasting and planning for the appropriate number of spaces to meet the growing needs of our aging population. In addition, we have seen an expanded privatization of care, that has been sold to the public under the guise of offering “choice” to patients and their families. Rather than building or upgrading publicly operated LTC, the long-standing trend in Alberta has been to close public long term care facilities. This renders the promise of “choice” a mere illusion. Previous governments turned seniors’ care into a hospitality industry, in which companies profit from those that need a hand. Slowly, we have transitioned to a system where more and more of the cost is passed down to the residents and their families.
While 2,000 new beds would be a major step in addressing capacity issues in the LTC system, Premier Notley did not specify whether the beds will be publicly or privately operated. In 2015, the NDP made an election promise that they would build 2,000 public LTC beds, but 1,700 of those were built and operated by the private sector.
“Focusing the future of seniors’ care on the expansion of long-term care beds, rather than supportive living beds where costs are offloaded to patients and their families, is a positive step,” said Joel French, Executive Director of Public Interest Alberta. “However, it is disappointing that the NDP’s announcement seems to leave the door open to for-profit corporations providing this care, which means more public money being wasted on corporate profits. Those profits can only be made by cutting the quality of care, which has a direct, negative impact on Alberta’s seniors.”
In March 2019, Friends of Medicare and Public Interest Alberta launched a joint campaign, Alberta Seniors Deserve Better, to highlight some of the most pressing issues facing seniors in our continuing care system. As part of this campaign, we are calling on the government to get profits out of seniors’ care, and ensure that this promise of 2,000 LTC beds is in line with a commitment to defending and strengthening our public health care for seniors and their families.
“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 quality of care that our seniors receive.”