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The Long Term Bed Crisis

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“The measure of a society is how you take care of your elderly and disabled”
-Dr. Llewellyn Schwegmann

Recent headlines in the Edmonton Journal, July 5/99 such as “The Aging Menace” or “Growing Aging Population Increases Demand For Health Care” instil fear. Health Region #11, spokesperson, CEO Sheila Weatherill, Edmonton area, publicly reinforced this by informing us that in her region alone there are waiting lists for long term care beds of over 500 people:

“The pressure is definitely building […] the challenge is escalating as the population grows and ages.”

However, since 1995, Health Authorities, across the province have been closing hundreds of long term care beds. In the Edmonton area alone, probably close to 700 beds have been closed and continue to be closed. Entire long term care units have been closed and entire wings within long term care units have been converted to respite beds , subacute care beds (recovery beds for orthopedic patients), C.H.O.I.C.E. beds and beds for rehabilitative plastic surgery. In some long term care centres, rooms have been simply locked. In instances where elder care facilities have been grossly overcrowded, such as having two four bed wards sharing one toilet, bed numbers have been reduced.

At Alberta Hospital Edmonton, two hundred and forty six or more geriatric beds have been closed. The relocation of the geriatric Youville Rehabilitation Hospital from downtown Edmonton to the Glenrose Hospital, resulted in a considerable reduction of beds, all of which helped create the pressure and challenge Weatherill is referring to.

In Peace River, Lethbridge, St. Paul, Glendon, Isley, Red Deer, Vilna and elsewhere, entire care facilities were emptied of their vulnerable elderly. The process of closing numbers of beds continues to be an ongoing process in Vegreville, Valleyview and Peace River. We have been recently informed that Drumheller is closing twenty more nursing home beds.

In 1995, the Peace River Auxiliary Hospital was forced to close and its facility turned into offices for health care office staff. Presently, their active treatment hospital is being closed to make way for a new hospital, however the long term care beds which existed in the old hospital will not be replaced. The total number of long term care beds in Peace River have been reduced from one hundred and twenty five beds to sixty seven beds, the projected number is fifty beds, some have informed us that the projected number is forty beds.

In the face of the closing of Our Lady Health Care Centre of Vilna, strong objections emerged, not only from local residents, but also from such centres as St. Paul, who will have to accomodate Vilna’s displaced seniors, but which have their own backlog of elderly who need care.

The present dramatic shortage of long term care beds is due to bed closing across the province. THE AUTHORITIES HAVE CREATED THE CRISIS. In fact, the crisis has been artificially created and blame is being laid on the seniors of this province.

Further to this matter, another front page article informed us that:

“Fort McMurray and Grand Prairie between them have grown by 3,500 people and that’s like a whole new city has been added.”

In fact, frail seniors were removed from beds in Fort McMurray and other residents, who were native to such outlying areas such as Fort Chipewan, were summarily dispatched to St. Josephs Auxiliary Hospital in Edmonton, much too far for regular personal and family visits. The Fort McMurray Public Health Officer who objected to this process, was abruptly relieved of his position.

Because long term care beds are not available in their home communities, seniors are often sent many miles away from family and friends. Wetaskiwin area seniors may be transported to Breton or Winfield, Stony Plain residents to Devon or Westlock. Strathmore elderly are removed to Drumheller, even though they live in close proximity to Calgary.

Isolating these elderly persons from family loved ones, friends and community is in blatant contravention of the Protection for Persons in Care Act Chapter P-19, 5.

This Act defines abuse to include:

1(a) ii “Intentionally causing emotional harm […] coercing or restricting from appropriate social contact.”

Undoubtedly, moving elderly people leads to suffering, emotional and mental destabilization possibly premature death and dramatically affects the families involved.

Inevitably, numbers of elderly persons, who desperately need to access long term care beds, end up in expensive active treatment beds. A 95-year-old friend, who resided in Drayton Valley, had to be admitted to the intensive care unit, until a place could be found for her in the active treatment area, where she then awaited placement in long term care.

Others, may end up in unmonitored, unregulated unlicensed group homes. They may have to pay exorbitant rents, as high as one hundred dollars a day. Despite this, there is no guarantee that they will receive adequate food or care.

The relatively small percentage of elderly who require this care are being perceived as problematic and even a menace to the health care system. Sick, elderly persons are being shifted around like pawns in a chess match.

The attitudes of health care decision makers in this province, throw an unfavorable shadow over older Albertans. Their decisions cause a blight on a province which boasts prosperity, plenty and surplus.

Elder Advocates of Alberta Society

Quotes and facts taken from various Alberta news outlets, available upon request.

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