Long-term facility says rent increase justified by level of care needed
By Karen Kleiss, Edmonton JournalEDMONTON - Everything changed the day Grace Denyer's daughter found her sitting in a dirty diaper, wailing in agony as her own waste seeped into the open, bleeding wounds on her skin.After pleading with staff to change the diaper, Denyer's daughter and her siblings returned every day to check on their mother. Four days later they again found her soiled and miserable, so they called an ambulance and had her admitted to an Edmonton hospital.It was Dec. 4, 2011, and it was the final straw. Denyer's six children pledged they would never allow their 80-year-old mother to return to the public long-term care home where she was receiving care for dementia.Instead, they started looking into private long-term care.Daughter Beth Podgurny said they knew it would be costly, but they were desperate to give their mother a decent quality of life. They trusted the system was designed to protect vulnerable seniors and their families. Now, after living through a two-month "nightmare" in the private system, they have come forward to warn others that private, for-profit care in Alberta isn't working."We just don't want this to happen to other people," Podgurny said. "We've been a victim inside the sys-tem, and outside the system. The government has to step up to the plate and they have to protect the vulnerable citizens."When you put profit over care, profit wins. - This can't be a buyer beware situation. These are people's lives. We had no idea this could hap-pen to us, no idea at all."The increasing privatization of seniors' care in Alberta is a growing public policy issue.During the PC leadership race, Premier Alison Redford said she would lift the cap (which ranges from $46 to $56 a day) on the amount private operators can charge for care, in an attempt to encourage entrepreneurs to open more long-term care beds.She has not yet done so, and officials have refused to say whether the Conservatives plan to lift the cap after the spring election. They have said only that they plan to conduct public consultations on the issue before making that decision.Last month, a broad coalition of seniors' advocates castigated the government for refusing to reveal its plans, which the coalition said could mean some seniors will pay as much as $6,000 a month for care.In Denyer's case, it wasn't quite that much - but it came close.Podgurny said she and her siblings eventually settled on a new south-side facility called Tranquility Care Homes. The facility, located in a beautifully appointed residential home in the Twin Brooks neighbour-hood, advertised as a long-term care facility capable of taking care of dementia patients. The cost: $3,500 a month.Under Alberta law, the home is licensed as an assisted-living facility, which means it is not subject to the maximum $56-a-day cap for private rooms.Podgurny and her siblings are not rich, so money would be tight, but they wanted what was best for their mother and felt they had no choice. On Dec. 28, after three weeks in hospital, Denyer moved into the home.The care was exceptional, and she thrived. But two weeks later, owner Karen Cazemier asked for a 43-per-cent increase in fees. The new monthly bill: $5,000.The family was shocked. They simply couldn't afford it. They wondered if Cazemier had the right to demand such a substantial increase so soon, and they frantically tried to hire a lawyer. Podgurny said they tried to work with Cazemier, to no avail.On Feb. 21, the family received an eviction notice, and on March 6, Cazemier called an ambulance and sent Denyer to hospital.Like more than 1,000 Alberta seniors, Denyer is now in an acute care bed awaiting transfer to a public long-term care facility. Her family is devastated.Cazemier said Denyer's children withheld information about the severity of her illness and that the fee increase was necessary to provide adequate care."She has extreme Alzheimer's behaviours, so screaming and yelling in the middle of the night, waking the clients and the other residents of the home," Cazemier said. "We needed to hire an additional staff member to care for her needs specifically, which is why we had to change the (cost)."Cazemier explained that each resident is subject to a three-month probationary period and that the facility issued an eviction notice because of the negative impact on the other residents and because Denyer was "slapping" caregivers, creating a potentially dangerous work environment."It had nothing to do with money, it had everything to do with her care needs not being compatible with the rest of the house," Cazemier said.One week after Denyer was taken to hospital, her bed has been filled. Cazemier said she gets three calls a day from Albertans looking for a place for their loved ones. Tranquility is opening a second location in May.Charmaine Ford is director of care for Youville Home, the publicly funded facility Denyer was in before her family sought private care. She said the Health Information Act prevents her from discussing Denyer's care, but she did say the facility doesn't agree with the family's account."We worked tirelessly with this family on a daily basis," Ford said. "It's unfortunate we weren't able to come to a satisfactory resolution. - We're sorry to hear things have become so difficult for the family. We know how dedicated they are to their mom."Bill Moore-Kilgannon, executive director of Public Interest of Alberta, said the story is "an example of how for-profit care would be extremely expensive for families and put them in a situation where they're having to fight for the care of their loved ones. Then the facilities turn around and demand more money and the families seem to have no protection."If the government doesn't do anything to stop a for-profit owner from sending a senior to an acute-care hospital, then they're allowing this type of for-profit seniors' care to cherry pick only the healthiest seniors."
By Karen Kleiss, Edmonton Journalkkleiss@edmontonjournal.com