By Barry Kerton, Whitecourt StarMonday, November 18, 2013Public Interest Alberta, along with the Friends of Medicare and the Parkland Institute are concerned about what they perceive is the declining state of seniors’ care, on Wednesday, Nov. 13, they came to the Whitecourt Seniors Circle as part of the Seniors Care Provincial tour.The Whitecourt stop was the group’s eighth stop. About a dozen people attended the event including Whitecourt mayor Maryann Chichak and George VanderBurg, associate minister for seniors and MLA for Whitecourt-Ste. Anne.Bill Moore-Kilgannon, Public Interest Alberta executive director, said the group is touring the province to spark discussion on the state of seniors care.“We know there is a definite trend in Alberta, people are getting older. You may have heard the government or the media call it a grey tsunami. However, tsunami is the wrong word.”Moore-Kilgannon said the word tsunami implies it is a surprise.“We have known for some time that the number of Albertans becoming seniors would be increasing. The government knows how many people there are in the province and how old they are. It is not a surprise.”He said of particular concern is that the number of people who are 75 is also on the rise.“This is the age most seniors start to need some level of living assistance, such as long term care beds.”However, despite the increase in the number of people becoming seniors, Moore-Kilgannon said the province has not increased the number of long-term beds.Instead of increasing the number of long-term beds, Moore-Kilgannon said the province has increased the number of assisted-living positions available.However, due to the increase in the senior population over the last decade, Moore-Kilgannon said the number of spots of both assisted and long term care have actually decreased by four per cent in relation to the number of seniors.Moore-Kilgannon said the shift in focus from long term beds to assisted living and home care is because those two options are less costly.“Keep in mind, long term care is under the Nursing Home Act and it is the only act that specifically outlines the level of care that is required. The act makes sure there are some registered nurses on the staff of a long term care facility.”He said this shift has meant a number of seniors, who require the additional care long-term facilities provide have been placed in assistant-living facilities and are not receiving the care they need.Moore-Kigannon said during the course of the Seniors Care Provincial tour they have heard horror stories from people all over the province about senior citizens in assisted-living facilities who are receiving inadequate care because they are in facilities that do not meet their needs.Sandra Azocar, Friends of Medicare executive director, said the group is also concerned about the privatization her group has seen over the last decade.“The Friends of Medicare believe in the protection and expansion of our healthcare and it should be universal, available to all Albertans regardless of income. When you introduce for profit into the healthcare system you put that at risk,” Azocar said.She said the Friends of Medicare is also concerned with the budget cuts to the healthcare system Albertans have seen over the last few years.“One of the biggest issues that has come up is the need for a drug plan for seniors. The government announced the Pharmacare program that was supposed to be implemented in Jan. 1, 2014, will not be implemented by that date.”Azocar said the government originally said the Pharmacare program when implemented will save Albertans an estimated $180 million.“But because the plan is based on an income means test, we do not see this as a cost savings. It is a cost shifting. Whenever that happens, we usually find out the cost gets shifted to the people that need the medication and considering about 80 per cent of the population that use drugs it affects them the most.”Azocar is also concerned that the government has not released what the income limit for pharmacare support will be when and if the program is implemented or that senior and other advocacy groups have not had any input into what that the income threshold will be“We have heard that the income level would be $36,000 a year. Anything over that limit and people would have to pay 100 per cent of their drug costs. The reality is we are being asked to accept this program on faith without having any information.”She said Friends of Medicare also believes anytime an income test is brought in any type of public program the universality is taken away.“Basically, what happens is the more you require a medication, the more you will have to pay out of your own pocket and it turns out to be a tax on sick people.”After Moore-Kilgannon and Azocar’s presentations, VanderBurg was given a chance to respond.VanderBurg admitted the number of long-term beds in Alberta has remained consistent over the years at about 14,500.He said the main reason the government is not considering increasing the number of long term beds is because the government is has increased the number assisted-living positions available instead.VanderBurg said over the last three years, the government has been increasing the number of assisted-living spaces by 1,000 every year.“In a lot of cases, a person does not need to be in a long term care facility. Because of the improvements in homecare people are able to stay in their own homes longer. Or when they do have to leave their home they might need something above assisted-living but not at the level of long term care.”On the topic of pharmacare and the income threshold limit of $36,000, VanderBurg said Azocar had more information than he had.“The reason why no one has heard what the income level is on the drug plan is because those details are not available yet,” VanderBurg said. “Minister (of Health and Wellness) Horne has made it very clear that because 80 per cent of Albertans do not have access to a drug plan, he was looking for a way to make sure all Albertans had drug coverage and he would not bring anything forward until he had it right.”VanderBurg said although he did not agree with Public Interest Alberta or the Friends of Medicare, they could all agree on one thing.“At the end of the day everyone is looking to build more capacity for seniors. In Alberta every 15 minutes there is another senior citizen. You can do the math: today there are 470,000 senior citizens and that number will double in the next 25 to 30 years.”Read the article online at the Whitecourt Star.