The lack of beds, the challenges faced by staff members in all facilities to provide the appropriate level of care to residents, the oncoming difficulty we’ll face as people live longer and with more complex health needs. It’s important to know who is affected by problems in seniors care, why it’s actually a crisis, and how to fix it. Here’s a look…by the numbers.
The demand for long-term care is growing in Alberta as our population ages. These facilities and hospitals are typically reserved for Albertans with high needs, most often seniors over the age of 75 dealing with the effects of cognitive diseases such as Alzheimer’s. There are also a smaller proportion of younger residents who are receiving long-term care due to complex health conditions.
While Albertans of all ages are represented in long-term care, the overwhelming majority are seniors between the ages of 75 and 94. That’s only expected to increase.
Albertans in long-term care have complex and sometimes very difficult to manage health needs, which only serves to underscore the importance of adequate resources and staffing at facilities.
Current projections say seniors will make up 20 per cent of Alberta's population by 2031, but the number of long-term care beds in the province has remained stagnant for the past 15 years. The data shows public spaces aren't increasing as quickly as private beds - and while staff at private facilities deliver the best care they can each day, private employers spend less money on care and more on their profits, resulting in short staffing and a lack of resources for patients.
In order to maintain the health of a long-term care resident, they require a minimum of 4.1 care hours per day. In Alberta, no long-term care facilities have met this standard, but the only ones that come close are those in the public sector, at four hours.
These facilities are responsible for caring for Alberta’s seniors and otherwise infirm neighbours, friends and family. But how much of their funding is spent on direct care staff responsible for ensuring their residents' safety and health?
While the numbers show that public facilities spend a larger portion of their budget on care staff, resulting in more direct care hours for residents, only about one in five beds in the province is public. In fact, the majority are found in for-profit facilities, which means fewer care hours for each patient.
During the 2015 provincial election, part of the NDP's campaign platform was more public long-term care beds. While some public long-term care beds were promised in Budget 2017, at this point no additional public long-term care beds have been opened under this government.
The number of Albertans 85 and over nearly doubled between 2001 and 2015, yet the number of care beds remained the same. Alberta must create 7,000 beds per year until 2031 to reach 2001 levels again.
So when you hear about the seniors care crisis in Alberta, remember these facts. We need to work hard and invest in appropriate seniors care as soon as possible to give our elders the care they need, when and where they need it.