Featured letter: Health-care system fails frail Alberta seniors when they most need it

Alberta Health Services is not able or willing to respond to the needs of frail seniors with medical problems.

My parents are 87 and 88 years old respectively. They were healthy, responsible, working-class, taxpaying voters. They supported health care in this province for more than 70 years with taxes and premiums but seldom used the system.

Now, when they require health services, their needs are ignored. This leads to a crisis. When a health crisis occurs, seniors are treated with insensitivity and a lack of compassion that borders on neglect.

This article was published by The Edmonton Journal on October 4th, 2012.  To see this article and other related articles on The Edmonton Journal on website, please click here

Family members have to fill in the gaps left by AHS. This threatens their health.

Some of my observations:

Health care can only be effectively accessed through emergency rooms. This process is brutal on frail seniors.

Both home care and hospital staff are too busy “assessing” to provide basic comfort, hygiene, mobilization and mental stimulation. This leads to a further decline in health.

Assessment team members each ask the same questions over and over. They are too busy to communicate with each other or read each other’s reports, so they cannot speak for other team members or answer patient or family members’ questions.

The legal right to read an assessment report is denied until the patient is discharged. Then the report must be requested. This takes 30 days. There is a fee.

Referrals made to transition teams and home care are lost, sent to the wrong department or have the wrong information on them. This causes delays and omissions in service.

Home care does not use the results of assessments done in hospital. They do their own time-consuming, expensive assessments.

Before home care puts any service in place, the frail senior deteriorates and returns to the ER via ambulance. The process repeats over and over.

Eventually, the only option available is to rot and die in a nursing home, because an inefficient, negligent, irrational system that claims its goal is to let seniors “age in place” at home doesn’t work.

Health professionals repeatedly tell me, “if you are old and poor, you are screwed.”

I am a retired registered nurse who worked in an active treatment hospital. My perception of Alberta Health Services was positive and optimistic.

But that view began to change in 2011 when my elderly parents needed more health care. I never expected to see them treated so poorly. I am shocked and horrified.

As an RN I saw the system begin to deteriorate in the late 1980s when some services were privatized. Things have got worse.

I see: poor nursing care; expensive assessment without intervention; filthy bathrooms and unsanitary conditions; shortages of oxygen tanks, wheelchairs, pillows, milk and ice water; poor attitudes; and an environment that emphasizes the comfort and safety of staff, not patients. Both are important, but the needs of frail elderly patients have been lost.

A viable home-care system would save money. The cost of acute care for my parents in 2012 could easily pay for several years of good home care.

There are some staff still trying to be kind and helpful. They balance ethical professional conduct with common sense and humanity. They give me hope.

I have complained to staff, managers, administrators, MLAs and the health minister, but one person’s complaints won’t bring change.

All Albertans who have elderly family members, or who plan to get old, should put pressure on our politicians to demand changes to home care and health services for seniors.

Private health care for seniors costs about $100,000 a year. If you do not have that to pay for your parents and your own private health care, you are “screwed,” like me.

Shirley Bidnick, Edmonton

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