EDMONTON - The Alberta government is raising accommodation charges for residents of long-term care facilities by five per cent beginning Jan. 1.
Health Minister Fred Horne says that increase will be offset for low-income residents by increasing financial assistance through the Alberta Seniors Benefit and Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped programs.
Horne says the fee increase will "help ensure that residents continue to receive quality accommodations and related services, by helping long-term care operators meet rising accommodation costs."
Sandra Azocar, executive director of the Friends of Medicare, says the real winners are the operators of care homes.
She says Horne's "preoccupation with private operators' financial bottom line" is indicative of the government's move toward "commodification of seniors' care."
The Alberta Union of Public Employees says the fee hikes need to be accompanied by greater accountability.
“The government says this increase will help ensure quality accommodation and services for seniors in long-term care,” said president Guy Smith. “But there aren’t enough mechanisms in place to ensure that operators actually put that money toward those services.”
He said Alberta Health Services funds private operators to pay their nursing staff at the same level as AHS employees doing the same job, but some operators pay lower wages and keep the difference.
“These profiteers, some of whom are millionaires, are padding their profit margins with public subsidies meant to ensure quality of care,” Smith said. “Premier Redford and Health Minister Fred Horne need to close loopholes like this.”
Horne said the fee increase balances the need for operators to address rising costs while ensuring that the charges paid by residents are reasonable.
NDP Leader Brian Mason said it's just an opportunity for the private operators to earn higher profits.
"Meanwhile, there are nearly 1,400 seniors in this province waiting for a long-term care bed and poorly paid staff in facilities across the province are already increasing profit margins for private operators."