by Frank HorvathMembers of Public Interest Alberta’s Seniors Task force had a cordial and productive meeting with the Honorable Sarah Hoffman, Minister of Seniors and of Health, and 3 members of her staff on July 16, 2015.The purpose of the meeting was to acquaint the Minister with the work of the task force, its vast membership that represents a wide range of Alberta citizens and includes a number of associations in addition to those represented at the meeting. We also wanted to review our positions on key health care concerns, primarily in home care, pharmacare, and long term care. Members wanted her to know that the task force can provide counsel on improving the care system in a wide range of areas.Minister Hoffman began the meeting by asking the 15 task force attendees to introduce themselves, their associations and the people they represent, and to state the goals they hope to achieve through this meeting. In doing so, Minister Hoffman set a welcoming tone for the meeting and assisted the task force in achieving much of its purpose for the meeting. She also promised to email notes of the meeting to each person in attendance, which she did the very next day.Noel Somerville, task force chair, reinforced the extent of Albertans engaged in the task force, noting that 15 seniors associations, 3 labour unions, various health care groups and thousands of Albertans are represented. What unites them is their concern for quality seniors’ care and commitment to finding ways to improve it. He noted that task force members were very pleased with Minister Hoffman’s dual appointment as Minister of Health and Minister of Seniors, as many of the problems seniors face are health related.Minister Hoffman stated that she wants to accomplish relationship building today and she hopes to get to know task force members and their passions/causes better. She understood that task force members speak for broader communities and not just the members in the associations they represent.Then, Minister Hoffman responded to each of the goals voiced by task force representatives. In terms of immediate and longer-term priorities, she said she will be guided by the platform that resulted in the NDP’s election to form government. She is committed to 2,000 additional LTC spaces over the next 4 years, and she is hoping to hit 500 per year. Her immediate focus has been to work with where people are on the waiting list and where existing infrastructure can be used to achieve that.She said that she is aware that many current facilities have not been designed to address the full range of needs of seniors, and that more work is needed here. While a lodge may have a wonderful home-like feeling to it, some LTC seniors who have certain chronic care needs may not be well served unless modifications to the facility are made. She affirmed the necessity of ensuring that when a greater level of care is needed it is available.Minister Hoffman further acknowledged the need for a continuum of resources to support the large and diverse continuum of care. The key is how and by whom that should be delivered. For example, while she recognizes the value of home care, she feels seniors should not be isolated in their homes either. She said individuals who do not want to or can’t stay in their home anymore must have good community oriented facilities to move into.Minister Hoffman agreed that there are concerns about the clarity of language and terminology in continuing care. While staff makes every attempt to communicate adequately the different level of care, she understands the problem and welcomes suggestions for improvement.She confirmed that the privatization of seniors’ care doesn't align with her government’s values and that government must find ways to meet a rapidly growing demand.Minister Hoffman said she welcomes the STF as a sounding board and felt positive about consulting with us. She said her goal is to make decisions with and for the community.She acknowledged confusion in accessing and navigating care for seniors. The Seniors Advocate position is vacant at this time and she sees it as an opportunity to revisit its scope and role.Minister Hoffman noted the value of pharmacare and appreciated having the STF position paper to review.In closing, task force members offered ideas for improving seniors’ care that are low cost and could be readily implemented. The Seniors Advocate should be an officer of the Legislature and should have much broader powers comparable to the Child and Youth Advocate. Meaningful patient/family councils similar to school councils should be implemented in all seniors care facilities. Patient/family councils could refer unresolved issues to the Seniors Advocate. Also, care facilities and beds that were shut down by the previous government, if still viable, could be reopened. As the current patient concerns and resolution system is inadequate, a third party unbiased mechanism needs to be established with the scope/skill to carry out investigations. Neither AHS nor private providers can be expected to fulfill that role properly. Better statistical information should be collected facilitating discussion and resolution of issues by using the same base of knowledge.The meeting ended with both task force members and Minister Hoffman agreeing to work together for the improvement of the seniors care system.Frank Horvath is a member of Public Interest Alberta's Seniors Task Force.