Alberta continuing care review recommends phase-out of shared rooms, shift to home services

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The Alberta government will begin phasing out shared “ward” rooms in long-term care facilities this summer as recommended in a review of the province’s continuing care system.

Released publicly Monday, the report by consulting firm MNP makes 42 recommendations that aim to improve the quality of life for residents in facility-based continuing care.

It found shared rooms made it difficult to follow through with COVID-19 isolation and quarantine measures. Beginning July 1, facilities will immediately halt new admissions into rooms that already have two residents in an effort to eliminate the shared spaces by 2027.

Health Minister Tyler Shandro said the change comes from a lesson learned through the pandemic.

“We’ve all learned the importance of physical distancing to help to reduce transmission. Multi-resident rooms are among the biggest risk factors for infection control in continuing care, for COVID, for influenza and for any other communicable disease,” he said.


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Shandro said monitoring, inspections and audits will be expanded, and beginning July 1, released publicly, adding that the province expects an action plan on recommendations by the fall.

One of the review’s biggest recommendations is to shift more Albertans to long-term home care services rather than facility-based continuing care to contain costs amid growing demand.

Having home care represent 70 per cent of services by 2030 — up from 61 per cent — is expected to save $452 million per year and provide a cumulative capital cost savings of $1.7 billion, the report says.

It also calls for an increase in the hours of care provided to facility residents, which would mean hiring nearly 6,000 full-time equivalent staff at a potential cost of $410 million.

If the government follows through with another recommendation, Alberta would focus its capital investments on fixing or replacing existing facility-based care spaces, with some funding earmarked for the development of new spaces where needed.

The report flags the level of full-time employment opportunities, wages and benefits as longstanding problems in the sector amplified by the pandemic.

The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) vice-president Mike Dempsey said in a statement the government will fail to improve the system if it doesn’t nationalize it.

“Heavy workloads, insufficient staffing, and over-reliance on part-time positions are very real problems in the continuing-care industry,” said Dempsey. “The report acknowledges that poor working conditions are a problem, but it doesn’t go far enough to hold the culprits responsible.”


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Sandra Azocar, executive director of advocacy group Friends of Medicare, echoed those concerns about private care in an interview, saying after a cursory look at the report, its focus on a shift to home care could lead to some Albertans being unable to access the high-level, 24-hour care they need.

“I don’t think that this report will see the necessary changes that are needed to actually change the root of the problem,” said Azocar.

The NDP has criticized the public survey tied to the $497,500 review first announced last year, saying it seemed to justify the privatization of long-term care services.

NDP housing and seniors critic Lori Sigurdson said in a Monday statement it will do almost nothing to improve the lives of Albertans in these facilities, accusing Shandro of failing to protect residents and staff during the deadliest parts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“He failed to bring in a workforce strategy to keep residents and staff safe. He continues to ignore calls for paid sick leave, which is an obvious and immediate step that would keep people safe,” Sigurdson said.

‘We were abandoned’

The government report comes as a bill that would make it harder to sue continuing care operators works its way through the legislature

If passed, Bill 70: the COVID-19 Related Measures Act, would raise the legal bar for those alleging harm caused by exposure to COVID-19, forcing plaintiffs to demonstrate gross negligence, rather than ordinary negligence.


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Sigurdson urged the government to scrap the bill, but said she plans to introduce amendments so lawsuits that have already been filed won’t be affected retroactively, and extending COVID-19 liability protection to other business sectors won’t happen.

At a news conference Monday, Sigurdson was joined by two women whose mothers died of COVID-19 in continuing care facilities in Alberta and worried the bill would rob them of getting justice through the courts.

Kathy Kaiser’s mother died after contracting COVID-19 while living at the Brentwood Care Centre in Calgary. Kaiser is in an active class-action lawsuit against the care home.

“It shouldn’t be based only on degrees of maliciousness,” she said.

Shawna Larocque said she watched her mother die in a Shepherd’s Care home in Edmonton while employees did not respond to calls for help.

“We were alone, we were left in the room. We were abandoned,” said Larocque.

In question period in the legislature Monday, Premier Jason Kenney said the bill is meant to avoid the bankruptcy and shutdown of care homes.

“(That) would have a devastating impact and risk to the health of those seniors. We can’t let that happen,” said Kenney.


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