Study highlights serious problems with for-profit elder care in Alberta

A new report by the Parkland Institute clearly shows what most health care workers already knew to be true – that Alberta’s shift from public long-term care to privatized for-profit “assisted living” is hurting seniors and reducing the quality of care.

The Alberta government’s policy of privatization, offloading and cutbacks in elder care also hurts care workers, shows the report by the Edmonton-based institute, which is titled From Bad to Worse: Residential elder care in Alberta.

The study looked at two major shifts in policy that have taken place in Alberta in the recent past, said Parkland Research Director Shannon Stunden Bower at a news conference in Edmonton Wednesday: the move from long-term care to assisted living and the significant rise in service delivery by for-profit businesses.

“We found these shifts are associated with a decline in care availability, accessibility and quality,” she said, adding that they have also led to “more difficult working conditions for Albertans employed in the elder care field.”

The data collected by the researchers from Statistics Canada, Alberta’s Residential Care Facilities Survey and Health Facilities Review Committee and conversations with many stakeholders clearly shows “abundant evidence for profit corporations provide inferior quality care,” the study says.

“Public is the way to go, according to our data,” Stunden Bower told the news conference.

But while the study shows the shift in service delivery models has made things worse for seniors themselves, their families and health care workers, the owners and stockholders of private long-term care and assisted living facilities in Alberta are benefitting from rates of return significantly higher than those generated by U.S. stock markets.

Serious concerns raised by the report include:

  • A big gap between staffing levels in Alberta seniors facilities and the staff actually required to ensure dignity and comfort for residents
  • Shortfalls in service in public and not-for-profit facilities driven by underfunding, but a much worse situation in for-profit facilities. “Alberta for-profit facilities fell short of the staffing benchmark associated with reasonable quality elder care by well over 90 minutes of care per resident per day.”
  • Significant offloading of costs onto residents and their families that would once have been alleviated by the province

The report’s recommendations include:

  • Expanding Canada’s public health system to include institutional and home based elder care
  • Improving staffing levels at elder care facilities – Legally requiring all facilities to provide minimum care levels
  • Creating an independent provincial seniors’ advocate
  • Phasing out for-profit care

“As more services have been provided by for-profit service providers, the quality of elder care for Albertans has gone down,” Stunden Bower said. “We can afford quality elder care, just as we can afford quality health care,” she concluded. “It’s a question of political will.”


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