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Local family fighting to bring elderly parents to Airdrie

Residents frustrated by Alberta Health Services one-year residency requirement for long-term care

By: Christina Waldner

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Jul 30, 2014 03:33 pm

Tony Hirons with his granddaughter, Phoenix, before the strokes that took away his ability to care for himself.
Tony Hirons with his granddaughter, Phoenix, before the strokes that took away his ability to care for himself.
Megan Hirons Mahon/For Rocky View Publishing

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When Airdronian Johanna Hirons decided to bring her elderly parents to Alberta from Ontario so her father, who requires long-term care, and her mother could be close to her family, she said she had no idea it would be so difficult.

“We’ll just transfer him. How hard can that be?” she said.

“Then we found out there was this one-year residency requirement, which makes no sense because he can’t possibly live here by himself for a year before qualifying for long-term care. It’s the most ludicrous rule I’ve ever heard in my life.”

Alberta Health Services (AHS) requires someone to be a resident of Alberta for 12 months before they are eligible to go into long-term care.

Hirons’ father, Tony, was 72 when he had a series of strokes two years ago that left him unable to care for himself. Hirons said it’s been devastating for the family.

“He went from being a fully functioning member of society to being completely incapacitated,” said Hirons. “He lived in St. Michael’s Hospital (in Toronto) for almost a year while they were trying to see if he would come back, but unfortunately the area of the brain where his strokes were, it wasn’t possible.”

According to Hirons, Tony can no longer walk independently. He can’t get himself in and out of bed and he can’t feed himself. He has developed dementia and sometimes doesn’t recognize his family.

According to Jessica Potter, assistant director of communications with Alberta Health, the ministry that legislates the health system in Alberta, “provinces have reciprocal agreements in place where they give departing residents who move to another province three months to obtain healthcare insurance. This allows Canadians moving from one province to another uninterrupted access to acute/emergency room and auxiliary care.”

However, Alberta has different criteria for long-term care admission than Ontario. Alberta has no reciprocal agreement in place with Ontario for long-term care, only for acute care and auxiliary care.

In trying to make arrangements for her father, Hirons has contacted AHS Patient Relations, the Continuing Care Resolution Team and the manager of Transitions Services, the entity that oversees people going into long-term care. She said she always gets the same answer; “dad has to be a resident for 12 months to quality for long-term care in this province.”

“(In) no other province does this (requirement) exist. Alberta is the only province,” the mother of three said. “(AHS tells us) it’s part of the Nursing (Homes) Act. That it’s legislation and it can’t be changed. And that they have to follow the legislation.”

The Nursing Homes Act is legislation enacted by the Province to oversee how nursing homes are operated and includes regulations around eligibility.

AHS told Hirons she could transfer her father to Alberta and pay the $7,500 per month it would cost for care in a private facility for a year until he qualifies for long-term care.

“It’s just so much money,” she said. “I mean, I don’t know anyone who could afford to pay that.

“We’re not asking to jump waiting lists; that’s not what we’re asking at all. What we want is for him to be put on the waiting list while he continues to receive care in Ontario,” she added. “Once there’s a space for him, we’ll move him. I don’t think that’s an unreasonable request.”

Hirons, 38, who is a special education teacher with the Calgary Board of Education, acknowledges the option does exist to move back to Ontario to support her parents, but said she and her family have some compelling reasons not to do so.

“My job is here, and I have a child with a disability,” she explained.

“There are no teaching jobs in Ontario; the situation is really bad.

“I live here with my husband and we have a four year old with Down’s Syndrome and eight-month-old twins,” said Hirons. “My mom just wants to see her grandkids grow up and be here where there’s more emotional support for her.”

Hirons said her family has decided to put in the papers to transfer her father and deal with the situation once he’s in Alberta.

AHS is standing by its statements to Hirons.

“AHS is working with the family to address any issues or concerns they may have,” said Don Stewart, director of Media Relations for Alberta Health Services in a statement provided by email.

“I’ve had that conversation a number of times with different people and the appropriate service is long-term care for him because of the high level of his needs,” said Hirons. “I get told the one-year residency requirement applies to him.”

“I just think that it’s really unfair that they’ve picked on this one demographic of people to have pay for private services when they’re completely disabled,” she said.


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