This article was published by the Edmonton Journal on February 22nd 2012. To see this article and other related articles on the Edmonton Journal website, please click here.
EDMONTON – A broad coalition of seniors advocates on Wednesday castigated the government for refusing to reveal whether it plans to remove the cap on long-term care fees, a move the groups say could mean some seniors will pay as much as $6,000 a month for care.
Nearly a dozen groups representing thousands of Alberta seniors have launched a pre-election campaign to oppose the privatization of seniors care in Alberta. They want all of Alberta’s political parties to make their platforms public before the coming spring election.
“Seniors are not going to stand by and let the government turn seniors health care over to corporations,” said Noel Somerville, chair of Public Interest Alberta’s Seniors Task Force.
“During the campaign for the leadership of the PC party, Premier Redford criticized Gary Mar for suggesting that it was time for more privatized health care. We very strongly support her position on that. … (But) if multi-tier, privatized health care is the wrong thing for Albertans, why on earth is it the right thing for Alberta seniors?”
During the leadership race, Redford proposed removing the cap to spur private investment in construction of new care facilities, which the province desperately needs. More than 1,000 Alberta seniors are currently blocking acute-care hospital beds while they wait for long-term care.
The coalition includes representatives from the Alberta Council on Aging, Seniors United Now, the Seniors Action and Liaison Team, the Edmonton Chapter of the Canadian Association of Retired People and the Alberta Retired Teacher’s Association, among others.
They say removing the $1,700 monthly limit on the amount Alberta seniors pay out-of-pocket for care would be a “shameful” betrayal that leaves Alberta’s vulnerable seniors “to the tender mercies of corporations.”
Baldwin Reichwein, a retired social worker with Whitemud Citizens for Public Health, explained the actual cost of care is currently about $6,000 and the province pays the bulk of it, with seniors paying a maximum of $1,700 each month.
Removing the cap, he said, could increase the costs for all those who don’t qualify for government subsidies.
“What we’re hearing from the seniors population, collectively, is that they’re not asking for freebies,” Reichwein said. “They want fairness, and social justice.”
Gary Pool of the Alberta Council on Aging said rather than building the nursing home beds required, the government has been subsidizing the private sector to build and operate supportive or assisted living facilities that can’t meet the long-term medical care needs of seniors.
“Now the government is talking of lifting the cap on long-term care accommodations in hopes that the private sector will see enough potential profit to start building and operating nursing homes for those who can afford this cost,” Pool said.
“Unfortunately, it’s not the wealthy we need to worry about. We already have plenty of options — there are already lots of private, relatively expensive long-term care facilities out there.”
Coalition members worry that when for-profit corporations control most seniors care options, they will leverage that power to secure further fee hikes in future.
The coalition is also concerned about the privatization of home care for seniors.
“The home care system is being quickly turned over to private corporations that pay very low wages and provide often unreliable and unaffordable services,” said Bernice Rempel, Edmonton chair of the Canadian Association of Retired Persons.
“The government has not provided the resources to support a reliable, high-quality home care system. It is a cost-saver and we need that investment.”
Health Minister Fred Horne said the government hasn’t yet decided whether it will remove the cap, and that the priority right now is to build affordable continuing care spaces for seniors on fixed incomes.
“Our long-term care system is founded on partnerships, with the not-for-profit sector and with the private sector, and then with some facilities that are entirely run by Alberta Health Services,” Horne said.“That’s been the tradition in Alberta since the 1950s and ’60s, that’s how we leverage taxpayer dollars in order to build the number of continuing care spaces that we need.”
Seniors Minister George VanderBurg said the issue demands broad discussion and consultation with Albertans and MLAs.
“There are no plans right now to remove the cap at all,” he said. “This is a complex issue and there’s no easy answer to your question.”