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Continuing care legislation update welcome, says seniors housing CAO

COVID-19 pandemic has revealed inconsistencies and gaps when it comes to monitoring compliance in continuing care settings, says Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping

The provincial government’s plans to update the legislative framework for Alberta’s continuing care system, including replacing more than a dozen existing pieces of legislation with one new act, is welcome and needed, says Sam Smalldon, chief administrative officer with Mountain View Seniors' Housing (MVSH).

“I believe the consolidation is a good thing,” said Smalldon. “I think it will be better for the management and focus of health care in Alberta. Especially when legislation issues are contradictory or not working well together, this type of review is necessary. It’s definitely time.

“What will follow is action and funding, and the hope is funding will come for new facilities like our Carstairs proposal (for a new lodge).”

MVSH owns and operates seniors lodges in Sundre, Olds, Didsbury and Carstairs, as well as other standalone housing facilities in the region.

Introduced in the legislature on March 28, Bill 11 - Continuing Care Act will replace 15 pieces of current legislation, providing consistency by increasing clarity regarding services, enable improvements to service delivery, and supporting accountability and sustainability, says Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping.

The first major update of continuing care legislation in Alberta since 1985, the changes are needed to update and streamline the overall system, he said.

“The proposed legislation is foundational to our overarching goal that Albertans who receive continuing care have a better quality of life, whether it be through home and community care, in supportive living accommodations or in continuing care homes,” said Copping.

“Without this new legislation we risk gaps and inconsistencies remaining in place and we would be unable to make transformational shifts required for system improvement.”

If passed, the new legislation would make numerous changes including establishing a consistent approach and alignment of legislative requirements and services across the continuing care system, he said.

As well, the new legislation will provide greater authority to effectively monitor and enforce compliance to legislative requirements, including standards, he said.

The province’s current continuing care legislation does not always effectively reflect present-day practices, services or settings or “address the changing needs or expectations of Albertans,” he said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed inconsistencies and gaps when it comes to monitoring compliance in continuing care settings, promoting a need for more transparency and enforcement, he said.

For example, the new legislation includes a provision giving the government the ability to impose administrative monetary penalties if an operator or provider is not compliant with minimum requirements.

Smalldon echoed Copping comments about COVID-19, saying the pandemic has highlighted the need for legislative update.

“The legislation is really a framework on how they proceed,” said Smalldon. “So it will set a framework to address the issues that have come up during the pandemic, whether it be for resident care or facility-based issues.”

Supporting regulations and standards for the act will be developed and approved before implementation of the legislation begins, likely in spring 2023.

Lori Sigurdson, the NDP critic for Seniors and Housing, says Bill 11 does not go far enough to address critical concerns, including staffing shortages in continuing care facilities.

“Over 1,605 deaths due to COVID-19 have happened in continuing care in Alberta,” said Sigurdson. “Many of these deaths were preventable. I was hoping for significant transformational change to the continuing care system, especially given the tragic failures we have seen over the past two years, but this bill doesn’t contain anything like that.

“This piece of legislation addresses some reasonable housekeeping items, but does not provide the transformational changes that the continuing care system desperately needs given the tragic failure we have seen over the past two years.”

Asked for his response to Sigurdson’s comments, Smalldon said, “Operational issues like staffing and fine tuning the care delivery and making changes to facility-based issues for health-care delivery, I would support that there needs to be more specifics. It’s always the details that are important.”

The Friends of Medicare advocacy group says the new legislation fails to address needs and concerns.

“There is noting (in Bill 11) around staff-to-patient ratios, mandating minimum care hours or improving care and working conditions,” said executive director Chris Gallaway. 

“The government is still ignoring the real problems in continuing care, while leaving the potential for further privatization in the system.”

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