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Aberta's new continuing care regulations 'extremely dangerous': Critics

Representatives from United Nurses of Alberta, Alberta Union of Provincial Employees concerned over new regulations for continuing care.
Barrhead continuing care-cropped
Barrhead's Continuing Care Centre

New regulations for the delivery of continuing care came into effect April 1 as the Alberta government ramps up for its overhaul of the health care system. But many players in the medical field have voiced their concerns over — namely, what’s been left out.

Heather Smith, president of United Nurses of Alberta (UNA), issued a statement in a March 19 press release which highlighted the absence of a minimum number of care hours per day patients in continuing care facilities are required to receive.

“We are moving to zero hours of care. This is extremely dangerous,” said Smith in the release. “We are taking the care out of continuing care.”

The changes are set to come into effect April 1, one month after an Edmonton-area man was taken to a motel while recovering from a stroke, and two months after a Barrhead family made headlines with allegations of neglect experienced by their mother at the Barrhead Continuing Care Centre.

Health Minister Adriana LaGrange said during the question period of the March 19 Standing Committee on Families and Communities that funding for an average of 3.6 hours of care per day will be available for providers, and care hours hadn’t been adjusted since 1985.

 "We heard that changes were needed to provide better flexibility and to allow the operators to develop staffing plans that really meet the needs of not just their facilities but also their patients’ unique needs," said LaGrange.

But UNA’s March 19 press release cited a 2021 recommendation from public sector consulting firm MNP that called for an increase of care hours from the previous minimum of 1.9 hours per day to 4.5 hours per day for long-term care residents.

“The change in the legislation ensures that standards of care in Alberta continuing care facilities, already too low in many cases, will decline further,” said UNA in a March 28 statement to The Advocate.

“We know from past history that continuing care operators will cut corners to increase profit if they can. By eliminating minimum daily care hours, the government is sending the message that it doesn’t really care about minimum standards of care,” read the statement.

Thanks to the legislative changes, UNA said public and professional trust in the field are at risk

“Public confidence in the continuing care system will decline. That decline will be justified,” read the UNA statement. “As for professional trust, this change will likely result in more nurses leaving their profession, or leaving for other jurisdictions where standards of care are enforced.”

Sandra Azocar, a vice president for Alberta Union of Provincial Employees and former executive director of Friends of Medicare, said she agreed with the sentiments expressed by UNA.

“This is an issue that’s been around for decades,” said Azocar in a March 28 interview. She said the absence of minimum care hours is not only bad news for patients, but for staff as well.

“It allows the providers of continuing care the ability to do staffing allotment in a way that maximizes their profit,” said Azocar, which may leave patients at risk of reduced care, and caregivers with more work on their plates.

“It’s a no-win situation for both the staff and the seniors and this regulation basically does nothing to improve the systemic issues that are facing this sector,” she added.

Critics have also called other aspects of the new regulations into question, such as a staffing requirement exemption process which UNA’s Smith said would allow facility operators to bypass staff requirements behind closed doors.

“Albertans need to speak, they need to become aware,” said Azocar. “We need to be angry, we need to be demanding that this government do better, that they have the political will to actually make the changes that needed to be changed.

“It’s really easy to be a bean counter in some office and make budgetary decisions on the lives of people,” she added. “We’re going back to a place where there's going to be even less transparency, less accountability, and more room for things to happen to those people that are receiving care.”

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