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Letter writer expresses concern for seniors

Dear Editor:

The board and members of the Central Alberta Council on Aging were pleased to learn of the support in the 2010 budget for health care, seniors, education and people with developmental disabilities. We and many others have continually expressed our wish to maintain funding for these essential portfolios.

However, we continue to disagree with the Stelmach government’s direction of continuing to rely on resource income to fund the basic needs of Albertans for health care, seniors programs, education and supports for the disabled. Continuing to rely on volatile and uncertain resource revenue will, we foresee, force Alberta Health Services to reduce services to Albertans.

The new Alberta Bonds earmarked for new seniors accommodation will present an additional way to finance these much-needed facilities. We support this financing method but are greatly concerned that the money will be used to negotiate partnerships with private, for profit corporations to build and operate accommodations for seniors. That will place an unwanted double mortgage on the future.

We have watched with dismay as the covernment has continued to privatise long term care, draining off money to shareholders of private-sector corporations that should be used to provide services to citizens. If public-private partnerships are to be considered for providing health and long term care services, surely before that is done, there is an obligation on government to provide clear proof that private health care and seniors care is of better quality and costs less than publicly delivered services.

The new Michener Park Continuing Care facility will be ready by early fall. It is designed and built by Extendicare (Canada) Inc. on land purchased from the Alberta government and David Thompson Health Region.

There are 280 spaces in this new facility, of which only 217 spaces are long-term care, while the remainder are supportive living spaces. All transferees from the existing nursing homes will be assessed as to where they will be placed. Those to be placed in the supportive living spaces will have more “out of pocket” expenses.

A transition team will begin meeting soon. The team will strategize and will be looking for public input. A representative from Extendicare will be invited to join the team. After months of questioning, we have learned that there are no succession rights in the contract between Alberta Health Services and Extendicare for the patients and staff in the Red Deer and Valley Park Nursing Homes. This means that there will be no staff transfer, and no guaranteed beds for those presently in the existing nursing homes. This is not equitable for the patients or the staff. Some of the staff have served in the existing nursing homes for decades. The resulting loss of continuity and potential staff shortages will result in lower quality of care.

We in Red Deer have experienced this type of transfer before when the patients of the former Dr. Richard Parsons wing of the Red Deer hospital were transferred to Bethany CollegeSide. The problems of staff shortages and resulting occupancy shortfall and low quality care are well documented and known. Alberta Health Services must ensure that that is not repeated.

We have not been able to obtain any information about the disposition of the two existing nursing homes, when the Extendicare facility is in operation. We continue to ask that the properties remain for use in public service; they must not be sold to investors for private development and operation.

Sam Denhaan, president

Central Alberta Council on Aging