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TheRockies.Life Staff

What’s Missing in the New Health Care Model? The Bare Minimum

With the elimination of minimum care hours, nurses warn that Alberta's new regulations could turn continuing care into a profit-first, care-second industry

Canada, like many other countries, has a problem with taking care of elderly loved ones with health issues like dementia. 

Long-term care residents were decimated by COVID-19, revealing significant cracks in how Alberta’s continuing care system works. 

Recent provincial regulations were supposed to address these cracks, fixing a broken system, particularly in the area of continuing care. 

These changes, which went into effect on April 1, are designed to update the standards for long-term care patients as part of a broader government scheme they say will improve healthcare. 

However, several prominent figures in the medical field are worried that these new rules are missing something big, that could leave vulnerable patients in a worse situation. 

Among these critics is Heather Smith, the President of the United Nurses of Alberta (UNA), who is particularly outspoken about the issue.

“We are moving to zero [mandatory] hours of care [per day]. This is extremely dangerous. We are taking the care out of continuing care.”That’s a direct quote from a press release from the organization, and the statement has people worried!

Continuing care provides support for those who need long or short-term health care outside of a hospital.
Continuing care provides support for those who need long or short-term health care outside of a hospital | Canva

Zero Mandatory?

A 2021 study by MNP, a consulting firm, suggested bumping care hours up to 4.5 hours daily for folks in long-term care. They determined that elderly people in long-term care needed more care than they were getting. 

But, rather than bumping up care hours, Premier Smith’s new legislation scraps minimum daily care hours altogether.


Getting rid of the minimum requirement raises concerns about more corner-cutting by greedy long-term care operators looking to boost profits.

“We know from past history that continuing care operators will cut corners to increase profit if they can. By eliminating minimum daily care hours, the government is sending the message that it doesn’t really care about minimum standards of care,” read the UNA release.

The ripple effects? 

The UNA is predicting a dip in public confidence in the continuing care system, and possibly even more nurses packing up for greener pastures where care standards are, well, standard.

“We have already read in the news about a case of a stroke patient sent to recover alone in a motel in Leduc,” Smith observed. “I fear that the change in regulations means this is only a harbinger of things to come.”

“Until now, if an Albertan wanted to be assured that their loved one would get a minimum standard of care, it was in the law,” retiring NDP Leader Rachel Notley said at a news conference, “Now there is no guarantee.”

In the past, Albertans had faith in minimum standards of care for the elderly, but with the new regulations, no minimum care is required | Canva
In the past, Albertans had faith in minimum standards of care for the elderly, but with the new regulations, no minimum care is required | Canva

Confidence Eroding?

Dr. Amit Arya | X

The UNA is worried that operators will sidestep staffing requirements, and that lowering staffing levels will happen hidden from public view, leaving Albertans in the dark about the level of care their loved ones are getting in continuing-care homes.

According to Smith, “Public confidence in the continuing care system will decline.” 

Dr.Amit Arya, a palliative care physician, replied to the news on X, saying that this zero-mandatory was one of the most alarming aspects of the new regulations, putting seniors at risk.

“We not only need a legal requirement for nursing care, we need appropriate staffing ratios and improved working conditions. In addition, reducing nursing staff will not only result in more suffering for residents- it will also result in more unnecessary transfers to hospital, which will cost the system more anyways,” he wrote.

The Government’s Response?

During question period, Alberta Health Minister Adriana LaGrange said standard care hadn’t been updated since 1985. She said the government consulted with operators, workers, and residents before making the new policy decision. 

Sandra Azocar | Friends of Medicare

“We heard that changes were needed to provide better flexibility and to allow the operators to develop staffing plans that really meet the needs of not just their facilities but also their patient’s unique needs,” LaGrange told the legislature. 

However “unique” patient and staff needs may be, the idea of not providing a minimum amount of care and staff sounded “incredulous” to Sandra Azocar, Vice President of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees and former Executive Director of Friends of Medicare.

“We’re going back to a place where there’s going to be even less transparency, less accountability, and more room for things to happen to those people that are receiving care.”

She told Town and Country that these changes are a blatant prioritization of corporate profits over people’s well-being.

“Albertans need to speak, they need to become aware,” said Azocar. “We need to be angry; we need to be demanding that this government do better, that they have the political will to actually make the changes that needed to be changed.”

The changes to long-term care are the first in an ongoing overhaul of our provincial healthcare system.

Since the first set of changes could result in less care being required, Albertans better take a close look at future “improvements.”

To help our already overworked healthcare workers do their jobs caring for our loved ones, Albertans should pay close attention to the “improvements” being proposed.  

Letting for-profit operators decide what’s best for our elderly, has ‘danger’ written all over it.

Adrianna LaGrange at a press conference on health care  | Jeff McIntosh | CP
Adrianna LaGrange at a press conference on health care  | Jeff McIntosh | CP

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