Early in its mandate, our new NDP government has made three major announcements that will address short-term needs within the continuing care system.
More, however, is needed to ensure that the needs of Albertans can be met. We owe it to our seniors and all vulnerable Albertans to understand and prepare for the challenges ahead.
The government’s first commitment was to create 2,000 new long-term care spaces. The second was the confirmation on Oct. 29 of 25 ASLI (Alberta Supportive Living Initiative) projects across Alberta, which will ultimately add approximately 2,000 beds within the continuing care spectrum.
Thirdly, the budget added much needed money for expansion of home care.
Residents and their families and those who provide supportive living, long-term care and home care welcome these initiatives.
The expansion of home care and addition of spaces were needed and will likely reduce the number of chronic care patients occupying acute care hospital beds.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is that after years of inattention and chronic underfunding, significant issues still need to be addressed.
We need a broad public discussion about our expectations and priorities to ensure we get future continuing care right: these are community decisions that ought not to be left entirely to our health bureaucrats, able though they are.
As we enter this discussion, we should focus on the real issues and not waste time on red herrings.
For example, recent research by the Health Quality Council of Alberta (HQCA) has confirmed that quality of care is not affected by whether the provider is private, non-profit, faith-based or public, or whether the staff are unionized.
There is plenty of evidence that all types of providers are responsible, committed and caring.
On the other hand, the report identified five concerns of families and residents: the need for more staff; timely help and supervision for basic needs; cleaner and better-maintained facilities; access to related services; and quality, varied and nutritious food.
This is a telling list because these concerns are primarily driven by funding and continuing care is falling behind.
Current rates of funding are actually below what was received in 2011, after inflation and cost increases are factored in.
For the past three years, funding increases for continuing care have been 0%, 0 to 2%, and 0%.
At the same time, overall health-care funding has increased at 6% a year.
Just as schools need teachers, funding for spaces has to come with funding for care.
In Alberta, continuing care is funded at 19% below the national average.
In comparison, acute health care in Alberta gets 33% more than the national average.
Under these conditions, the HQCA conclusion that there has been “no significant change” in quality of continuing care is a credit to the commitment of our care providers.
It’s not just the quantity of funding that needs to be addressed.
Our current patchwork system of funding, program models and regulations needs to be revisited.
Changes are needed, not to reduce standards, but to allow the system to be more client and resident-centered, giving providers the flexibility to innovate and respond to the changing needs of clients and residents, and to reflect changes in the scope of practice of our health care professionals.
We need to ask ourselves whether a 30-year-old model of care is acceptable for our loved ones.
The NDP government has taken some initial steps toward getting things back on track.
However there is urgency to tackling these issues as quickly as possible.
The numbers of Albertans needing care and support through home care, supportive living or long-term care are going to increase significantly.
Will we be ready?
Continuing care providers want to work with the government and all Albertans to build the best possible system.
The Alberta Continuing Care Association looks forward to working with government as it takes its next steps to strengthen care and supports for Albertans.
— Tammy Leach is CEO of Alberta Continuing Care Association