LIKE MY GRANDMA - Karen Cazemier, owner of Community Care Cottages, speaks with resident Laura Pederson at the Community Care Cottages in Lacombe. Michelle Falk/Lacombe Express

Expanded medical benefits needed for seniors

Seniors housing hasn’t been formally reviewed in Alberta for 33 years

Red Deer Regional Hospital is bursting at the seams and according to Karen Cazemier this problem could be solved if seniors could receive their medical benefits regardless of where they choose to live.

“They’re not sick, they’re old—age is not a disease,” said Cazemier, owner of Community Care Cottages located in Lacombe, Red Deer and Edmonton. She lobbies for seniors saying they do not belong in the hospital or “institutions”.

Red Deer Regional Hospital currently has many seniors occupying acute care beds because they are unable to get a spot in a publicly-funded facility such as Royal Oak in Lacombe, Pines Lodge or the Piper Creek Lodge in Red Deer.

When asked, Alberta Health Services did not respond as to the specific number of seniors occupying hospital beds.

”While acute care in the hospital is more expensive than long-term care, there are no set costs for seniors in the hospital waiting for long-term care because each patient requires different levels of care,” said Brent Wittmeier, press secretary for the minister of health.

According to the Office of the Minister for Seniors and Housing, the government has allocated $45 million of the budget to support seniors’ housing.

They confirmed the government does not fund private seniors facilities, but did not respond to how facilities can obtain that status. That is something Cazemier said is extremely difficult.

“The industry is unnecessarily complex,” said Irene Martin-Lindsay, executive director of the Alberta Seniors Communities and Housing Association or ASCHA. “It’s kind of a strange landscape here in Alberta.”

ASCHA is a non-partisan group representing 70% of the seniors’ housing sector.

It partners with provincial and municipal governments to educate leaders and advocate for seniors’ housing.

Martin-Lindsay explained it should be an independent access system giving choice back to residents.

“Right now we have a compliance model, not a quality model,” she said.

“We have to accept that seniors may want to live with a certain level of risk and that like everyone else they are entitled to take that risk.”

According to Cazemier, there are plenty of empty beds available in the private sector, but most seniors cannot afford to pay for their own medical care in addition to accommodation fees.

Publicly-funded facilities have fixed accommodation rates of $1,992 per month covering meals, snacks, a lifeline and housekeeping and Alberta Health pays for all residents’ medical care, based on residents’ “assessed needs”.

If a senior is living independently at home they can be assessed and receive government-funded medical care.

In private facilities they set their own accommodation rates and they vary widely.

What is consistent is that they pay their own medical bills. If a senior lives in a private home Alberta Health Services will only assess “unmet needs.”

“The system is currently in the middle of a transformative shift,” Martin-Lindsay said.

They are working on the Health Quality Council of Alberta Survey to inform new legislation.

The Nursing Home Act hasn’t been formally reviewed in Alberta for 33 years, since it was changed in 1984.

MLA for Lacombe-Ponoka (UPC) Ron Orr said, “We’re talking about housing here. Why is seniors housing being managed by Alberta Health? Being old is not a disease!”

He added that his two concerns are the financial side and the importance of personal choice for people, in terms of the kinds of places they want to stay.

“In many cases what is happening in the institution-model is that they are being put into acute care beds in the hospital; we have that happening in Lacombe. This kind of care is costing $700,000 to $800,000 a year. I don’t think forcing people into large institutional settings is best for them emotionally, psychologically and consequently health-wise.”

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