AUPE Calls for Reform in Continuing Care Crisis

AUPE Calls for Reform in Continuing Care Crisis

Michelle Pinon
News Advertiser

On June 3 the province’s largest union called on the Alberta government and the Opposition NDP to commit to fixing what it’s calling a crisis in continuing care.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has made it abundantly clear that our continuing-care system has been failing for many years. The patchwork of private and public operators has not only exposed our loved ones to this killer virus, it has shown that the care people receive even in good times is inadequate,” stated Guy Smith, President of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE).

“Our current model of continuing care has made the COVID-19 crisis worse. Staff shortages, low wages and workers forced to take jobs at multiple sites are a direct result of allowing private, often for-profit, operators into the system. There is no better example of that than what’s happening in Vegreville,” said Smith.

Alberta Health Services (AHS) has sought an exemption to the public health order limiting workers to single sites because operators of four facilities there have been unable to recruit enough staff to care for residents.

“Last year, one of these operators laid off more than 50 workers, so it could outsource their jobs at wages rates up to $8 per hour less. The reason given was so the operator could give ‘greater return to our shareholders.’ Profit was more important than patients.

You can draw a direct line from that corporate greed to today’s inability to hire staff in the community and to the people of Vegreville now being exposed to greater risks. We must get the profit motive out of continuing care. We must break the cycle of corporations donating to political causes and getting access to our seniors so they can make money,”

“For too long, governments led by different parties have allowed privatization and the profit motive to hurt our seniors. This week, as we pay tribute to seniors, we ask Premier Jason Kenney and opposition leader Rachel Notley to commit to ending this dangerous practice.”

Mike Dempsey, who also represents AUPE, explained that in Alberta and in Canada in general most of our senior care facilities are private for profit. What that means essentially is that the most important thing that these companies want to do is maximize the dividends, their shares and so on. And so, when they do that they skimp on salaries and benefits. They only hire people part-time or casually, and so it’s difficult to keep staff on. They seem to limp along, and when you have COVID, then suddenly they don’t have enough staff to do the job.”

Dempsey went on to say, “Vegreville AHS has applied to relax the rule in Vegreville about one worker one site. No other place but in Vegreville so that other members can work at other sites.  And one of the reasons for that, is that last fall Century Park, owned by Optima Living laid off or should I say fired 53workers there that were our members. And they offered their jobs back up at to $8 an hour less an hour. And in the letter to the members that got sacked they said you can come back for $8 an hour less but we have to maximize the profit for our shareholders. They actually put that in writing, and so, these corporations also in the past, I can’t speak to those ones specifically, but those one’s in general, have always donated to political parties one way or another in order to get approved to curry favour with the political party of the day.

Dempsey said privatization goes back a generation or so, and what it has resulted in is the maximization of profit at the expense of having the proper numbers of staff as well as staff having the proper amount of personal protection equipment. And it has hit Vegreville hard.”

Privatization of health care began 30 odd years ago, noted Dempsey. “Instead of having it under a single standard and rates of pay, it was whatever they offered. Now they get remunerated, by the privates, a certain amount by Alberta Health Services for care, but they often take a portion of that money and put it over to the shareholders. And the trouble is that there aren’t enough audits in the private system to see if that’s happening or not. There needs to be more random checks on these operators to see if they’re pushing the money they get publicly to run some of these places to the members, to the residents, or is it the shareholders.”

He said now is the opportune time to review the system. In Alberta fatalities in seniors care in BC and Quebec as well, the rate of people passing on or dying is twice as high in the private for profits in Alberta than it is in the public. That’s generally true across Canada although in Quebec it’s four times as many.

That speaks to the requirement for standardized care. I think there needs to be a national debate and that means giving direction coming to the provinces. Ultimately, it would be great to see something made in Alberta, but there needs to be something national as well.   He said AUPE would like to see a public system that mirrors what Alberta Health Services is doing. Recognizing that it would take some time to implement that. But immediately what could start happening is on random inspections of assisted living as well as long-term care to ensure the standards that AHS has set for care and for safety and so on are being followed.”

AUPE represents about 95,000 workers, including about 58,000 in health care. In Vegreville there are abou