07/30/2012 04:10 EDT | Updated 09/29/2012 05:12 EDT

Alberta Seniors: Wildrose Party Accuses Province Of Treating Them Like 'Dogs'


EDMONTON - Alberta's Wildrose Opposition says the province is treating seniors like dogs in a kennel by needlessly closing a dementia care centre near Lethbridge.

Ian Donovan, the MLA for the area, said he has received only vague reasons for the imminent closure of the Little Bow Continuing Care Centre in the village of Carmangay.

Donovan, along with about 300 area residents and relatives of patients, took part in a rally Monday to try to keep the centre open and to prevent its 18 patients from being sent to other facilities in surrounding communities.

"We're not going to just sit here and nod our heads and say, 'This is fine,'" said Donovan in an interview.

"(Let's) remember who built this province. These are the people who made the province what it is today. And to treat them like they're a dog in a kennel is absolutely deplorable in my eyes.

"(To say) we'll just move them to a different place, well, you just can't do that."

A spokesman for Alberta Health Services did not return a request for an interview, but the department issued a news release saying residents will be able to move to another care centre of their choice, adding there is no deadline for the transition.

The news release said moving costs would be covered and residents will be able to take the furniture provided to them at Carmangay with them if they so desire.

Wildrose party Leader Danielle Smith warned that if the government can close one centre, it can close others.

"If they are able to close down this long-term care facility, without making any notice to the patients, without giving any notice to the staff — surprise attack if you will — they can do it in other communities," said Smith who attended the rally.

It's the second protest over the centre's closure since it was announced earlier this month.

Alberta Health Services said it was shuttering the 54-year-old care home because it no longer meets provincial standards. It said the rooms are too small, there are not enough bathrooms and there may be a problem with asbestos.

AHS also said there are job opportunities for all staff members at facilities in nearby communities.

Donovan noted the centre passed inspection in March and was recertified by health officials as a care centre a month later.

Two months after that, it was ordered closed, he said, even though the province has a shortage of long-term care facilities and the lack of such facilities has been cited as the main reason for bottlenecks and day-long waits for care in hospital emergency rooms.

"What's the big push? The facility has been fine for all these years. It passed inspection in March. What's the panic? Why can't we have consultation?"

NDP health critic Dave Eggen agreed.

“This closure is taking 20 spaces out of a system that already has long waiting lists,” he said in a news release.

“The Conservative government admits there are 1,469 seniors waiting for continuing care. We need more spaces in long-term care facilities — not fewer.”

AHS said 88 continuing care beds recently opened in Strathmore and Nanton, and a new 20-bed unit will be opening at the Claresholm Centre for Mental Health and Addictions.

The news release said that in total, 349 continuing care beds will be opened in the rural areas surrounding and including Calgary over the next year.

Carmangay Mayor Kym Nichols, who also works at the centre, said she is outraged that no one was consulted before the decision was made.

"Had we been approached before and had somebody come to the community and said it isn't feasible to keep the facility open, we could have ... come up with some other option to keep the facility open and keep our residents here," she said.

— With files from CJOC in Lethbridge