Hundreds face living on Calgary streets
About 200 more people might be living on Calgary's streets April 1 if the provincial government carries through with a plan to slash $575,000 from the Calgary Drop-In and Rehab Centre's budget.
Talk about April Fools. This news comes after the province cut funding to the Drop-In, Canada's largest homeless shelter, by $250,000 last year. That adds up to $825,000 - $45,000 less than the $870,000 cost of paying MLAs from all parties for being on a committee that hasn't met for four years. For those who have argued that the money-for-nothing committee is pocket change for the Alberta government, consider just how far that money goes in the hands of the good people who run the Drop-In Centre.
The Drop-In's executive director, Debbie Newman, decided to keep quiet about last year's $250,000 cut so as not to offend the province's bigwigs. But silence certainly wasn't golden for the poorest of Calgary's poor.
Perhaps screaming from the sixth floor of the Drop-In will be. If the province thinks it will be saving money by slashing funding to the shelter, it should think again. Such a move will prove to be penny-wise and millions of dollars foolish.
Newman says the effects won't just be felt by the 10 staff she will have to fire and the 200 people who will no longer find a bed at the Drop-In, but by society as a whole in increased policing, court, emergency services and hospital resources when destitute people don't have a place to sleep at night and hang out during the day.
"If the cuts come, then it means I've got security issues," explains a deflated Newman, who will be meeting with the province's Ministry of Human Services on March 28.
"People become desperate when they can't access services and don't have a place to sleep.
I've had several meetings with the people who will be selling the condos in the East Village, to be a good neighbour. It will have a huge impact on the community," says Newman.
"I've warned the police out of courtesy," she adds. "If I get a cut, they need to know what they're up against. I'm going to need security at the door and they'll need to take on more of the inebriates," says Newman, who points out that she is housing 300 inebriated people a night, and during the day keeping them off the streets.
Calgary Police Chief Rick Hanson said police view the Drop-In Centre and other similar agencies as partners in crime prevention.
"If some of the chronically homeless wind up back on the street, then it will fall on the police service to find an alternative arrangement. It will likely mean arresting them and putting them in the drunk tank, which we know is not an effective way to deal with this very complex issue," Hanson explains.
The chief says tri-morbid people (homeless people with severe addictions, resulting in multiple health issues) are at a high risk of dying, which also increases the risk to police and ups the cost to society.
"If a tri-morbid person dies in police custody in the drunk tank, there's a huge investigation, there must be a fatality inquiry, there's enormous risks to us looking after them because sometimes even though we have folks continuously doing checks, they are at a higher risk of dying," adds the chief. "But if they're looked after at the Drop-In Centre and they pass away there, there's much less finger pointing, less allegations all around."
Since partnering more closely with the Drop-In Centre and Alpha House as well as other agen-cies that deal with inebriates, the police have saved thousands of hours of their time.
Supt. Richard Hinse said police figures show that as a result of partnering with the Drop-In and Alpha House, since 2006 the number of intoxicated people arrested and placed in the drunk tank has decreased from 1,701 to just 451 in 2011.
"So far this year we are housing less than one inebriate per day. We're getting down to the last drunk and we can thank our community partners for that," exclaims Supt. Hinse.
Between 2010 and 2011 alone, 70,000 staff hours were saved in arrest time and processing in the court services section, which means 20,000 more police hours on the street.
The Drop-In not only provides a bed for 1,060 people per night on average, but it also serves up 3,500 meals every day with just three paid staff co-ordinating corporate, community and church volunteers. It provides career counselling, carpentry courses, computer labs, clothing, furniture, nursing care, laundry facilities, showers and compassion.
The Drop-In is the only shelter that provides a space for inebriates to sleep during the day and night, keeping them off park benches and out of police drunk tanks.
Alberta's Minister of Human Services, Dave Hancock, says while no decision has been made to cut funding to the Drop-In, the government is moving toward funding more long-term housing solutions and away from shelter programs.
"Part of this," explains Hancock, who was reached in Edmonton Tuesday, "is that we're a victim of our own success. More than 3,500 formerly homeless people in Calgary have permanent housing now, so there's been a decrease in the demand for shelter beds."
Indeed, the budget for housing has increased $15 million over last year, adds Hanson, it's just the focus is changing as to where that money goes.
Newman agrees that their shelter numbers are down from highs of more than 1,200 people per night during the peak of the boom. But while fewer people sleep in a bed every night, she says 200 to 300 more people, who are one paycheque away from homelessness, come in daily to eat and access other services the Drop-In Centre provides.
"Once people get a permanent home, the need for our services doesn't just stop," Newman says. "These proposed cuts would be a disaster for so many."
Now that the news is public, will the Tory government risk looking like heartless April Fools?
Calgarians can ensure the right thing is done.
Calgary Herald, Wed Mar 21 2012
Byline: Licia Corbella
Liberals say government is 'hiding abysmal record' until after election
CALGARY — A regular Alberta Health Services three-month report card on wait times and medical data across the province will be delayed several weeks — potentially until after the spring election — as it undergoes government review.
Opposition critics contended the Tory government is holding on to the health superboard's third quarter report on surgery, emergency department and cancer therapy wait times until after the vote to ward off unwanted attention on the heated health care file.
But Health Minister Fred Horne said the government is "absolutely not" stalling on the report — rather is looking at how specific resources in the new provincial budget might improve performance in some problematic health care areas.
"We want to be able to talk about specific things we're trying to do to improve performance in specific areas," Horne said in an interview.
"Taking into account resources we might be able to apply in the budget after it's passed is part of that."
An AHS spokeswoman said the performance report — providing data from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31, 2011 — will likely be on the board's public agenda in May or June.
The reports are generally released roughly every three months. The last quarterly report on performance measures was made public following a Dec. 8 AHS board meeting.
The newest figures on performance measures, however, were "delayed" and weren't ready for approval when the AHS board met in Canmore last week, said AHS communications vice-president Colleen Turner.
The next board meeting isn't until May 3.
With the passing of the provincial budget yesterday. the PC government is expected to drop the election writ by next week and send voters to the polls in late April.
Before the board can approve it, the AHS report card must first be forwarded to the Alberta Health and Wellness (AHW) Department for "review, recommendations, and the joint development of action plans and timelines tied to improving the results," Turner said in an email.
"We want to work with AHW on a closer link between the results and the budget being developed now."
The medical data will be sent the government by the end of the month, she added.
The previous performance report showed the medical system is making improvement in some key areas, but still falling below its own targets in many areas.
Liberal Leader Dr. Raj Sherman accused the Tory government of trying to keep the information from Alberta voters.
"The PCs are desperate. They're hiding an abysmal record on health care from voters," Sherman said.
He said the delayed report is a sign of the "blurred" boundaries between the Health Department and AHS, which provides medical care to Albertans.
Wildrose health critic Heather Forsyth said the government should allow the report to be seen on schedule.
"This government is notorious for hiding things they don't want Albertans to see," she said.
"If they had something to brag about, you can be guaranteed that report would have been released."
Calgary Herald, Mar 21 2012
Byline: Jamie Komarnicki
Alberta farm families are being strangled by skyrocketing electricity costs that stick them with monthly bills of $1,000 or more, cabinet ministers heard at a meeting of rural municipalities Tuesday morning.
Reeves and county councillors from across the province erupted in applause when veteran Grande Prairie farmer Richard Harpe pressed Energy Minister Ted Morton to explain how the government will fix the problem of growing electricity costs.
"The average small farm in rural Alberta - a small cowcalf operator or a small grain farmer - is paying anywhere from $750 to $1,000 per month for electricity, said Harpe, a county councillor who has been farming 2,428 hectares of grain for 40 years. "Before the government deregulated electricity, they were paying $300 every three months, or $100 a month.
"The government promised us cheaper power when they deregulated. They said we'll create competition and you'll get cheaper power."
Morton said he is in the process of appointing an independent panel to review variable and regulated rate options and consider what, if anything, the government can do to reduce volatile costs attached to the variable default rate.
In the meantime, he said rates are expected to return to normal in coming months, bringing power bills down to a level consistent with what people paid last year.
"Rates are back down to eight cents on the regulated rate option, we've frozen the ancillary charges, we're reviewing the regulatory rate option," Morton said.
Calgary Herald, Wed Mar 21 2012
Byline: Karen Kleiss
The Progressive Conservative government's failure to move quickly on whistleblower legislation is a missed opportunity to improve accountability in a government plagued with accusations of heavy handedness, critics say.
Premier Alison Redford promised during last year's leadership campaign to institute whistleblower legislation, "to encourage government workers to speak out about waste, fraud or abuse in government."
With an election call expected in a matter of days, Redford said last week the government has been dealing with her other campaign promises and would not have time to pass legislation before the vote.
"I'm looking forward to continuing to be able to move on all of my commitments, because that's what I do," she said.
But for opposition parties, the issue is particularly acute in Alberta given the Health Quality Council report last month that found a culture of "fear and alienation" where some doctors and health care professionals faced intimidation and silencing over patient advocacy.
There have also been allegations of political interference within the health system.
Wildrose MLA Heather Forsyth, who pressed Redford on whistleblower legislation in question period last week, said such a law should be passed and should apply to Alberta Health Services.
She said there is no excuse for the Redford government not to have moved on her campaign promise.
"This government is notorious for ramming legislation through the legislature when they want legislation through," Forsyth said.
The Opposition Liberals have introduced whistleblower legislation in the past that was not accepted by the Tory government. Liberal MLA Hugh MacDonald said it is a necessary check and balance on the government. "In this province when you consider that doctors feel intimidated, some school board officials feel intimidated, if we're to restore confidence in the system, the entire system, whistleblower legislation would be a good step."
MacDonald acknowledged the whistleblower legislation could have perhaps tempered the heavy criticism aimed at Redford for not including doctor intimidation within the scope of a public inquiry into health care queue-jumping.
The federal government and some provinces have variations of whistleblower legislation that set up a third-party independent officer, such as the federal integrity commissioner or Saskatchewan's public interest disclosure commissioner, to whom employees can raise concerns.
Sharon Lopatka, spokeswoman for the government's corporate human resources branch, said existing regulations are being reviewed.
Lopatka said government employees are free to bring concerns forward without fear of reprisal but acknowledged that is not written in existing legislation, regulations or policy.
Civil servants are supposed to raise concerns about internal malfeasance to senior management, she said. Only after several steps could a complaint be sent to a third party, however.
AHS has introduced a bylaw laying out the process for advocacy as well as a hotline for physicians and health workers concerned about patient advocacy.
But Tyler Sommers, co-ordinator of the national organization Democracy Watch, said the mechanisms in place in Alberta aren't enough to ensure public employees will come forward.
"They won't have confidence they will be protected - they believe that their job and possibly their health could be at risk from blowing the whistle," he said.
"It's necessary to have not only mechanisms within their department but an external body - so people can go somewhere else if feel like they can't go to their department."
Forsyth maintained Redford has no interest in whistleblower legislation or a wide-ranging public inquiry.
"She knows it will literally kill this government if health-care professionals and other employees have the opportunity to speak out in regards to the bullying and intimidation they are under," she charged.
Calgary Herald, Mon Mar 19 2012
Byline: James Wood
City council displayed a brilliant act of mathemagic Monday by shuffling the no-win hand dealt by the province to keep the property tax increase at six per cent. It's still a huge tax increase, one of the highest in years. What also shouldn't get lost in the budget wizardry is the broken promise from the Redford government.
Alberta Premier Alison Redford promised no new tax increases or levies would be brought forward in the budget, expected to pass today. Instead, the government's tax grab came through the backdoor, when it demanded some $1.8 billion more in education property taxes — a full
$107 million more than it collected from Alberta property taxpayers in 2011.
For Calgarians, that equals an increase of $34.8 million in the education portion of the property taxes for 2012 over 2011. This is an increase nearly 10 times higher than the increase taken in 2011.
While technically true that the mill rate hasn't increased, what the province has decided to do is apply that rate on the rise in assessed property values. Not only is the province's actual dollar take increasing because of new housing and developments now paying property taxes, it is charging the mill rate to the total value of a property. The last time it did this was in 2004.
It's clearly a tax hike, but one that is underhanded, hidden and conveniently complex enough to cause great confusion among ratepayers.
The city's policy is to keep property assessments revenue-neutral, to maintain a level of certainty and stability for property owners, and shelter the tax rate from the boom-and-bust cycles of real estate. That the province can, on a whim, decide to apply the mill rate to property value proves the need for stable, certain funding for municipalities. The province, this year, is essentially treating the assessed value of property much like it would income, whereby any increase in income is taxed at the appropriate rate.
The city has adjusted the numbers so that the province gets its 10-fold increase in the education portion of the municipal tax bill, while charging all rate payers, both residential and non-residential, the same combined six per cent increase. It's done this by taking advantage of the decline in property values on the non-residential side, which hasn't experienced the boom that the residential side has seen. On paper, it appears that businesses are being hit harder to soften the blow for residential taxpayers. In reality, it is pretty much a wash.
Unfortunately, the move does send a negative message to small and mid-sized companies in Calgary, who already feel city policies are anti-business. Business taxes are an increasingly big burden on independent upstarts trying to compete, create jobs and contribute to the economy. Passing on a tax break once in awhile would create much good will, and might even help some of them keep the lights on.
To suggest this is anything but a tax increase is a smoke-and-mirrors trick worthy of a master illusionist. Worse, the province has created chaos at the local level by changing the rules around its share of the property taxes. Cities deliver the services that citizens most need.
More than ever, municipalities need a funding formula that prevents the province from offering anything but predictable and sustainable funding.
Calgary Herald, Mon Mar 19 2012
The New Democratic Party has a candidate running in all 87 provincial ridings, beating even the ruling Tory government to full slate status.
In Edmonton-Goldbar candidate Marlin Schmidt has been knocking on doors for over a year, with 500 sign locations picked out.
"We don't have a big budget, we don't take corporate donations. We have to rely on candidates engaging voters at the door, on the ground. It's more work, but it's more effective," said party secretary Brian Stokes. "The more doors we can knock on, the more voters we can speak to."
Last week, the Liberal Party had 55 candidates in place, with another 11 "in the hopper" being vetted.
"On election day, we will have all 87 constituencies filled," said Liberal leader Raj Sherman.
Robert Prcic is running for the Grits in Calgary - North West.
A 22-year-old university student from a farming background in Cochrane, he's literally head-and-shoulders over many other candidates. The former University of Calgary Dinosaur basketball center is 6'10" - and he believes he's the youngest candidate in the field this provincial election.
"The future is now, and I bring a common-sense approach, not one of saying something and then not getting it done," he said.
Then there's a little friendly family rivalry. If Liberal Norvel Horner's name rings a bell, it might be because the MLA candidate for Calgary-Currie's second cousin to PC Deputy Premier Doug Horner - and
the son of a former deputy agriculture minister.
The Alberta Party expected to have 30 candidates in place by the end of next week - part of their idea of "doing things a bit differently," said leader Glenn Taylor.
"We're only fielding candidates where they have a connection to the community. We're not just putting names on the ballot to pretend they're more than they are," he said.
His party looks for a track record of volunteerism and a profile in prospective candidates' communities, Taylor said.
The concentrations of Alberta Party candidates includes Calgary, with 10 or 11; Edmonton/St. Albert/Spruce Grove, 10; and the rest sprinkled around rural areas around Edmonton, Taylor said.
Calgary Sun, Mon Mar 19 2012
Minister reaches out to medical association
EDMONTON - Health Minister Fred Horne stood his ground on the nature of the province's public health-care inquiry Saturday, indicating recent calls from representatives of Alberta's 7,200 doctors to expand the probe's scope to look at alleged physician intimidation would not sway his government.
"We've made a decision as a government about the public inquiry, that decision's been made and the inquiry's being organized," Horne said.
Premier Alison Redford has called a public inquiry into allegations politicians have been able to jump ahead of other patients to gain faster access to health care.
On Friday, at a meeting of physician representatives with the Alberta Medical Association, doctors called on the province to examine physician intimidation allegations and apologize for what has happened to doctors who advocate for their patients.
A recent report of the Health Quality Council showed more than half of the province's doctors felt they had limited ability to advocate on behalf of their patients, 20 per cent expected "active, hateful obstruction" and 37 per cent said they faced negative reactions.
Horne, who said he does not dispute the facts of the report, said he has already begun reaching out to the medical association, the College of Physicians and Alberta Health Services to brainstorm "ways that we might actually reach out to doctors."
"I don't agree that an inquiry necessarily is the way to go about it, but I agree that we need to focus in on it," Horne said.
The health minister said he doesn't have a specific program in mind yet, but he is working on developing a process for better understanding doctors' experiences.
"I think we need to work together to find ways to reach out to physicians where they work, to go out and talk to them about what their day-to-day challenges are in relationships with administrators and how they get input into decisions that are made and how specifically disputes are being resolved in the workplace," Horne said.
"In my mind, it has to be something that doctors find meaningful and will accept and actually has the potential to improve things. But we've got to address this, because it's that culture, you know, that positive culture where doctors feel they've got some ownership over what's going on in health care, that's the thing I think that's going to move us forward and actually position us to address the problem."
Horne said he believes this dialogue can take place in a safe environment, where physicians feel secure from further intimidation, and said he will not be paving the way for "another plan or another review or another report, but an actual dialogue with physicians on their terms."
On Friday, Dr. Lloyd Maybaum, president of the Calgary and area medical staff association, said Alberta's doctors need to speak with one voice, demanding the province provide for an inquiry and "some form of truth and reconciliation, an acknowledgment of what happened in the past, an apology and a steadfast desire that we are gong to change."
Horne noted he also met with the medical association last week: "I'm not sure exactly what he's looking for. I certainly expressed my regret and the regret of the government yesterday when I spoke to doctors (about) the experiences that many of them have reported enduring and I'll continue to do that every opportunity I get."
Opposition parties are expected to make the Health Quality Council report — and how the government deals with the call for a public inquiry into intimidation — an election issue this spring, when Albertans go to the polls.
But Horne said he and Redford are most interested in moving forward. "It's a serious matter, and I don't think you address it through politicizing it."
Edmonton Journal, Sun Mar 18 2012
Byline: Trish Audette
The province will be making announcements about new school projects in the next few days, Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk told Alberta teachers at a pre-election forum Saturday.
He added a new method of paying for the approximately 400 new schools needed to house the province's exploding student population over the next decade is also in the works.
"Under the current financial model of paying cash, we only get to build a fraction of the schools that we need to build," Lukaszuk said during an all-party event sponsored by the Alberta Teachers' Association at Barnett House, the ATA's headquarters.
Lukaszuk said only five to seven new schools can be built annually under the current education budget, which itself is increasing by about 3.5 per cent every year. The Treasury Board and Alberta Education are considering various ways to raise money.
But talk of borrowing money to build schools didn't go down well with Vitor Marciano, a Senate candidate representing the Wildrose party at the forum.
"The fact we should go back into debt to build schools belies the fact that in many ways we are the richest jurisdiction in the world, and if we were able to properly manage our affairs there should be enough money to build an appropriate number of schools."
Marciano said the Tories hold out "the promise of a school" to garner support with voters, and he said a Wildrose government would establish a formula for school approvals.
"Building decisions are hideously politicized in this province. No cabinet or political party should decide whether your kids need a school," Marciano said.
But Lukaszuk said later, "The largest number of schools now being built are in Airdrie, which is a Wildrose constituency. There are only three criteria that we go on, enrolment, capacity of the area, structural soundness of the existing schools, and health and safety."
And he slammed the Wildrose party's aversion to borrowing.
"If you are going to build that many new schools with the current budget (without additional funding), that means some other programs are going to go away," he said.
"I don't believe in this false type of mathematics, I believe in being open. We will be looking at a variety of vehicles, either external or internal, to make sure kids today get the schools they need."
Edmonton-Strathcona NDP MLA Rachel Notley said decisions about where to build new schools must be "entirely transparent," and recent stories about possible political interference in the process "makes Albertans lack trust in the process."
Earlier this month, northern Alberta Progressive Conservative MLA Hector Goudreau had to resign as chairman of a government committee after a letter he wrote to the Holy Family Catholic School District indicating criticism of the government could cost the board a new school was made public.
Notley also said using the public private partnership (P3) model for building new schools "is a failed model that can't accommodate a changing community."
A spring election is expected to be called as early as next week, sending voters to the polls in late April. Saturday's all-party forum highlighted a potential lightning rod for teachers and three of the official opposition party representatives: Private schools funded by the province.
Alberta gives 70 per cent of the base student funding to such schools compared with 100 per cent for public schools.
"Public tax dollars must be for public education," said Alberta Liberal Leader Raj Sherman to applause, who added the province gives those schools $192 million a year.
" 'Choice' is code for privatization, the same as in health care," he said.
Lukaszuk insisted that public schools are superior to private schools, which is why 95 per cent of parents send their kids to public schools.
"Our public education system is superior to any private education offered anywhere in the world, and parents know that," he said.
"Private schools make public education look good."
The comments appalled the Alberta Party's Sue Huff, who wondered why the province was funding private schools if they were inferior.
"I am stunned a minister of education would say it is OK for some parents to choose crappy education for their children."
Lukaszuk insisted the parents who send their kids to private schools also pay property taxes so deserve some education support.
Marciano agreed with Lukaszuk: "We think this is an issue of choice. Private and public are different, I am not going to say one is superior than the other, and for the small number of parents who send their kids to the private system, that keeps pressure on the public system to keep it excellent."
Edmonton Journal, Sun Mar 18 2012
Byline: Dave Cooper
The management of Alberta's 171 billion barrels of proven oil reserves will be a major election issue, with political parties at odds about everything from upgrading to pipelines to environmental oversight.
Premier Alison Redford is focused on selling a controversial pan-Canadian national energy strategy to her provincial counterparts, which she hopes will solidify support for oilsands development and buttress her efforts to get the Keystone and Gateway pipelines built.
Those pipelines, which will bring Alberta bitumen to the United States and Asia respectively, are central to the province's plan to secure markets for its most valuable resource.
Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith says the national energy strategy is unnecessary and favours communication over legislation to get Canadians behind oilsands development.
University of Alberta School of Business energy expert Joseph Doucet says the province must improve its record of environmental oversight and stewardship and then do a better job of communicating those efforts to the world. "It will help us re-establish some of the social licence to operate, which we have lost," Doucet said. "People don't understand the benefits of the energy sector, so they zero in on the costs."
"And at present we don't have a good story about how we are dealing with some of the environmental impacts."
Environment Minister Diana McQueen has tried to address the issue by establishing an expanded joint federal-provincial monitoring process, but critics have slammed the lack of independent oversight. McQueen has now appointed a panel to make recommendations on the structure of the new oversight panel. It will report back in June, after the spring election.
Grant MacEwan University political science professor Chaldeans Mensah said "the government has to be aggressive in defending the oilsands as an important resource, globally, but at the same time to be forthright in dealing with some of the environmental fallout.
"If the two components are handled adroitly, I think it will put the government in a very positive position both within Canada and also abroad."
Dennis Westergaard, a political scientist at Fort McMurray's Keyano College, expects the province's decision to focus on exporting raw bitumen instead of refining it in Alberta will be at issue in the election.
"Why aren't we turning the product into finished oil right here? I find it baffling," Westergaard said. "Why we are shipping bitumen away, instead of oil?"
A recent poll showed 81 per cent of Albertans support government efforts to increase the amount of upgrading done in the province.
NDP Leader Brian Mason said he believes Albertans want their government to better manage the environmental impacts of the oilsands and that his party has long advocated for increased upgrading of bitumen in the province.
"We're not saying shut the oilsands down, we're saying clean them up," Mason said. "You can't just take out ads in the U.S. to say, gee, well, we're a reliable ethical partner, when everyone is seeing ducks dying in tailings ponds on the news.
"We're not against pipelines in principle," Mason said. "We think environmental and First Nations issues have to be addressed. If a case can be made that they're environmentally responsible, we would support them if they export upgraded products."
Edmonton Journal, Sun Mar 18 2012
Byline: Karen Kleiss
As shocking as it is an ambulance crew was used by a for-profit Edmonton nursing home to evict an 80-year-old grandmother afflicted with dementia and dump her at a public hospital Emergency Room without telling her family, six months ago this story would have caused barely a ripple in our complacent and inattentive mainstream media.
Yet despite the fact the story was brought to attention yesterday morning by the Alberta Federation of Labour and Public Interest Alberta -- just the kind of progressive voices our homegrown media loves to ignore -- TV and print journalists were out in force to cover the appalling situation.
The reason, it's said here, is not altruism or even the kind of outrageous facts that traditionally make for a great news story. It's because the media smells Tory blood in the water.
With a long-plotted provincial election looming, the Alberta Progressive Conservatives under Premier Alison Redford are suddenly lurching from crisis to crisis. The public and media have started to take note things aren't exactly going the government's way.
And the appalling treatment of Grace Denyer, kicked out of the inaptly named Tranquility Care Home in south Edmonton after the private, for-profit, and apparently unregulated operator tried and failed to jack up the rent paid by her family, and dumped dazed and confused at the public Grey Nuns Hospital ER, is certain to focus more public attention on the Redford Tories' plans to privatize and deregulate seniors' care in this province.
In other words, this is yet another crisis for Redford's government -- which is nowadays reeling like a palooka, looking almost as befuddled as the one led by her predecessor Ed Stelmach.
Yesterday morning, you could feel the excitement of the media even before Denyer's daughter went to the microphone to recount the horrifying details of what happened to her mom, who last year also suffered a stroke and has only limited ability to speak, can't walk or feed herself and must wear a pacemaker.
The facts on their own are appalling, and well covered in the media: after growing dissatisfied at the quality of care in a public auxiliary hospital in the bedroom suburb of St. Albert, Denyer's family moved her to the private facility that advertised itself as being capable of taking long-term care patients.
They thought they could get a better quality of care, Beth Podgurny of St. Albert told the reporters, and indeed Denver was in stable condition and showed signs of improvement after the move. But despite signing a contract, within days Podgurny was told by the operator of the Tranquility facility that the $3,495-per-month price the family had negotiated for her mother's care was too low, and was going to have to jump to $4,995. (For only $500 more, the family was told, the company could house Denver in the basement.)
Podgurny and her husband Jackie thought they were involved in a resolvable dispute over the rent they'd agreed to pay the private operator for Beth's mom's care. The company apparently saw it as a simple business matter to be handled decisively, and "responded with an eviction notice to take effect in only a matter of days."
The eviction took the form of calling an Alberta Health Services ambulance crew and instructing them to haul Denver off to the public hospital, which they did. Podgurny and her sister didn't know anything about it until, shocked and frightened, they received phone calls from medical staff at the Grey Nuns.
"We are appalled that our 80-year-old mother was treated liked a commodity instead of being treated with the respect and dignity that all Albertans deserve," Podgurny told the news conference. "The fact that there appears to be nothing under provincial rules to prevent this is mind-boggling. It just goes to show that the privatization solution that Premier Alison Redford is pushing to address long-term-care issues isn't the answer for vulnerable Albertans.
"My family wants answers from the Conservative government," Podgurny stated. "Why was it possible for our mother and our family to be treated in this appalling fashion? Why is this facility allowed to advertise for and accept long-term-care patients when it is not licensed to do? How can they increase the rent in excess of 42 per cent within weeks of entering the home? How can they be allowed to evict and dump a resident at the Emergency door when they decide they no longer want to provide care?"
These are all great questions, and if they get answers, it will only be because the family has made this a public issue on the eve of a general election.
Earlier, Health Minister Fred Horne and Seniors Minister George VanderBurg didn't even bother responding to a letter outlining the family's concerns about their mother's treatment in St. Albert.
The reality, however, is that Albertans should get used to this sort of thing if the rampant privatization and commercialization of long-term care pushed hard by the Conservative governments of Ralph Klein, Stelmach and now Redford, and advocated by the far-right Wildrose Party as well, are allowed to continue apace.
As Public Interest Alberta Executive-Director Bill Moore-Kilgannon told yesterday's news conference, private long-term care operators have an ugly history of trying to "cherry-pick" low-cost, easy-to-care-for seniors for long-term care and dump the more complex and expensive cases on the public system.
"Unfortunately, this is not the only case we have heard of private facilities forcing seniors out when they feel they are too costly to support," he said. "We are calling on all political parties to commit to build a high-quality public care system for the growing population of seniors with chronic health-care needs -- and to stop the profiteering off our most vulnerable seniors."
Well, good luck with that with a government deeply committed to letting the private sector take over the public job of providing long-term care for vulnerable seniors, the better to provide families with "choice" -- you know, the choice of paying more or having their loved ones abandoned at a busy urban Emergency Ward.
Indeed, here in Alberta, taxpayers' dollars are being funnelled by the millions into subsidizing private, for-profit care of just the type experienced by Denver and her family.
At the very least, Podgurny said, "the government has to step up to the plate and they have to put the accountability back into the system. And they have to do it immediately."
"I said I would never let that happen to my mother before she was in long-term care," Podgurny told reporters, brushing aside a tear. "And it happened right before my eyes and there was nothing we could do about it!"
Now that it's become another election issue, it'll be interesting to see what Redford, Horne, VanderBurg and other members of the government have to say about the shocking treatment meted out to Grace Denver.
The nursing home operator, whom reporters complained they were having trouble contacting, has apparently left the country, Moore-Kilgannon told reporters.
Alberta Diary, Thurs Mar 15 2012