Is gov’t caring for seniors or shifting responsibility?

As long as I’ve been living in Alberta and making a career out of writing and commenting on other people’s business, there’s been a knot in the chain of life

By Editor George Brown

As long as I’ve been living in Alberta and making a career out of writing and commenting on other people’s business, there’s been a knot in the chain of life.

We have seniors confined to their own homes because they are on a waiting list to get into the local seniors lodge but because there are people in the lodge who should be in a nursing home, now living longer lives, the list doesn’t get any shorter. We also have people whose home is an acute care bed in a hospital because there’s no room for them in long-term care — healthy people are living there.

No one wants to live in a hospital and no one should have to. Relatively healthy people who chance to break a leg or need a hip replaced should not be piled up in hospital corridors because seniors have taken up residency and have a mailbox hanging on the door to their semi-private room.

A couple of weeks ago Health and Wellness Minister Ron Liepert told Alberta Weekly Newspaper Association (AWNA) publishers and editors Alberta Health Services will work with municipalities and the private sector to create more spaces for senior citizens in lodges and long-term care centres.

He explained that seniors housing is not considered health care but long-term care is.

And true to his word, the department announced a few days later it will provide continuing care in the community. If seniors housing and long-term care shouldn’t be considered part of the health care services, then it becomes the responsibility of the private sector, other government departments or municipalities to provide service.

It remains to be seen whether there’s any real profit to be made providing long-term care to seniors — aside from charging them an arthritic arm and prosthetic leg for services. Will it be a case where government provides further subsidizes to private operators to provide a room and three squares to seniors in long-term care?

We want our senior citizens to remain independent and comfortable in their own homes for as long as possible, receiving a higher level of nursing care when they need it. What will we now do with elderly Albertans who can’t afford to live in a private long-term care centre or who don’t have a home to sell so they can to move to an assisted living home? Will we be forced to re-open acute care beds when they get sick or slip in the tub, once again increasing costs and pressures on the health care system. Or maybe put them on an ice floe and give them a push out onto the Battle River at spring breakup?

At first blush, this move would seem to free up acute care beds for people who need them, people on waiting lists for elective surgery, accident victims who come through emergency departments and maternity moms who would be more comfortable delivering new Albertans closer to home.

But then the government announces it intention to close hundreds of acute care beds. And why not. They’re empty now, right?

Successive Progressive Conservative governments have not been short of innovative ideas, they just never seem to follow through with a plan to implement those ideas without raising a ruckus, backtracking and changing course or abandoning the idea all together.

It may not be a bad idea to require more of Albertans, as children and as a society, to provide more of the necessities of a senior citizen’s life as they age. It does seem to be contrary to where society is headed. There are more Albertans of retirement age who are being required to care for their aged and frail parents. That’s life in the new millennium but as investment portfolios shrink in the global recession, many of those retired children are being forced back into the workplace. They’re flipping burgers trying to protect their own retirement fund, not at home caring for an elderly parent.

This announcement regarding seniors “community living options” comes on the heels of the Alberta Health Services plan to close Alberta Hospital Edmonton and shift care for hundreds of mental patients to some level of community care. It needs to be made clear to our MLAs and to the bureaucrats in the health department that when we demanded shorter waiting lists for care and more acute care beds, we didn’t mean they should throw marginalized Albertans out onto the streets.

That’s just shifting responsibility for care from one department or agency to another.

But the blame still lies with the government.

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