By Susan Zielinski, Red Deer AdvocateSixteen advocacy, health care and seniors groups are calling on the Prentice government to eliminate its cap on the number of long-term care beds and increase funding for care and medically trained staff at seniors’ facilities.On Tuesday, Public Interest Alberta’s Seniors’ Task Force, whose members represent Central Alberta Council on Aging, United Nurses of Alberta, Friend of Medicare, and many others, released a Long-Term Care position paper saying Alberta is short 6,000 long-term care beds.Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) studies show that in its 34 member countries, an average of four per cent of the population over the age of 65 require long-term care.By that standard, the task force says Alberta needs about 20,000 long-term care beds and currently only has 14,370.Bill Moore-Kilgannon, Public Interest Alberta executive director, said the number of beds was capped at under 14,500 in 2008.“Obviously our population is growing and aging and we need to be looking ahead,” Moore-Kilgannon said on Wednesday.Meanwhile, Alberta is spending 19 per cent less per capita than the national average on seniors care and that leads to very serious issues for seniors and their families, he said.Steve Buick, Alberta Health spokesperson, said per capita figures don’t provide the whole story.“Our population is much younger than the national average so the simple per capita figures are going to be slightly skewed by our population. You would expect our spending on seniors care would be somewhat lower than average because our population is young,” Buick said.“We do have a lower percentage of seniors, but it’s not 19 per cent less,” Moore-Kilgannon said.He said Alberta has focused on investing several millions to build the private, for-profit seniors assisted living system which provides less care and downloads costs onto seniors and their families.The PIA paper says unregulated charges for services in assisted living facilities, like assistance with bathing, escorting to and from the dining room, night checks, incontinence management, and administering medication, would all be covered in long-term care facilities.“Many people in assisted living facilities, as their care needs increase, move from $2,000 a month for basic costs up to $5,000, $6,000 a month very, very rapidly. That’s why companies are more interested in building assisted living facilities as opposed to building long-term care,” Moore-Kilgannon said.Task force member Sam Denhaan, of Red Deer, said the province is creating more acute care problems by not having enough long-term care and providing home care that’s not adequate or effective.“We’re building all sorts of seniors’ accommodations. I know that. But it’s not the right kind,” Denhaan said.And more funding is needed to improve care standards as identified years ago in the 2005 Auditor General’s report, he said.Steve Buick, Alberta Health spokesperson, said Health Minister Stephen Mandel is aware ofthe issues facing seniors.“In general, we absolutely agree. The minister knows this file very well. He’s very clear. We need more long-term care beds per se, and of course we need more supportive-living beds and more home care services,” Buick said.He said in the fall the province announced 460 new continuing care beds within 12 months in addition to all previously announced commitments. About 80 long-term care beds and 80 supportive living beds have already opened.“So far this fiscal year, AHS has across the province has opened about 700 continuing care beds.”He said the minister is concerned about the roughly 750 continuing care patients waiting in acute care beds in hospital.“In April 2010, four years ago, we had 700 patients waiting in hospital and it’s a bigger system now so relatively we’re making a little bit of progress. But the minister is clear we have to do a lot more than we’re doing. We can’t go on having 700 or 800 people in hospital who ought to be in continuing care instead.”Buick said work on continuing care is underway and the biggest exercise going on right now is the comprehensive Rural Health Services Review and the minister is expecting the report on the first phase of the review this week.“He will be looking at it over Christmas and in the New Year he’ll be making that public along with some initial responses and actions on it.”To view the PIA position paper visit [email protected]Read the article on the Red Deer Advocate's website (subscription required).