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Alberta report urges home care to handle predicted surge in continuing-care system


EDMONTON — A review of Alberta's continuing-care system says demand for it will grow by two-thirds by the end of the decade.

The report, released by Health Minister Tyler Shandro, makes 42 recommendations to deal with the expected surge, including expanding care for people in their homes.

The report says 61 per cent of care is currently provided in homes while the rest is provided by facility-based aid, such as long-term care facilities.

It recommends more emphasis on at-home care to about 70 per cent, saving an estimated $452 million in annual operating costs and about $1.7 billion in cumulative capital costs.

The report stems from a review chaired by United Conservative backbencher Richard Gotfried, which talked to stakeholders, staff, care-home operators and members of the public.

Shandro says the government will be working over the summer to implement the recommendations.

He says giving people more choice for at-home care is one solution to keeping the system viable and sustainable.

"These are good steps but there is still a lot of important work ahead of us to modernize the system, to meet the challenges that are coming," Shandro said Monday.

"Alberta will need to adjust the types and the mixtures of continuing-care services that are provided in Alberta in the future, and we need to give Albertans choice of settings in which they receive the care and services that they need."

Care homes have been under acute pressure during the COVID-19 pandemic, with some facilities seeing outbreaks and multiple deaths.

Shandro said some of the changes start July 1.

"Continuing-care facilities will no longer admit residents into shared rooms that already have two residents," he said. "There are a number of them that still exist in the province, and by July 1 we will no longer have ward rooms in the province."

Lori Sigurdson, the Opposition NDP's seniors and housing critic, said the report fails to meaningfully address issues around the care facilities.

"Today, while Tyler Shandro is stripping Alberta families of the right to sue continuing care operators, he releases a report that will do almost nothing to improve the lives of Albertans in these facilities," she said in a statement.

"The recommendations in this report are totally disconnected from the UCP's budget for continuing care, which increases at less than one per cent over the next two years, which is a real-world cut when considering inflation and population growth."

Sigurdson was referring to a bill introduced last month by Premier Jason Kenney’s government that would give legal protection to health workers facing lawsuits over COVID-19.

The bill proposes exempting a range of workers, including doctors, pharmacists and care-home operators, from being sued over COVID-19 unless it was for gross negligence.

Gross negligence has a higher bar to reach in law, as it involves flagrant failure to implement or follow an accepted standard of care.

The proposed law would be retroactive to March 1, 2020, around the time the pandemic started in Canada.

If it passes, any existing lawsuits will have to be amended to meet the threshold of gross negligence.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 31, 2021.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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