CALGARY – Alberta Premier Jim Prentice says his plight to get seniors out of hospitals and into long-term care is personal.
He speaks of his mom who died a year ago after a long battle with pulmonary disease.
“I hate the term bed blockers,” Prentice says of the handle sometimes given to people, most often seniors, who are in hospital, but should be under some other care that isn’t there for them.
Before she died, Prentice’s mother would get periodic attacks and then she would have to go into the hospital, be on oxygen, be treated with drugs and eventually go back to the seniors’ lodge.
“In one of these episodes when she was taken over to the hospital, somebody from Alberta Health Services showed up and interviewed her while she was in the hospital bed and accused her of using up the bed,” says Prentice.
“They were grilling this 84-year-old woman on what the hell she was doing in the hospital. She was taking up the bed and the bed was for other people. What was she doing?
“My mom was so upset. My parents were hard-working people, paid their taxes their whole lives, didn’t ask anything from anybody. Then their health falters and the one time they need the medical system and there’s somebody telling her to get out of the bed.
“As my mom said, ‘I can’t breathe. Where am I going to go?'”
Prentice says he and his four sisters were outraged.
“We tried to get to the bottom of who did this and why did they do it. We never really got any satisfactory answers,” he said.
“It underscores the problem now front and centre in the health-care system. We haven’t been building the continuing-care beds we need for senior citizens so they’re going to the only place they can go, to the hospital.”
This week, the Progressive Conservative government will free up beds as a short-term fix for overwhelmed emergency rooms and spend $180 million to eventually get seniors who don’t need to be hospital into nursing homes and other facilities, he says.
The premier says when people’s lives are ending, they do not want to be in a hospital.
“People want to pass with their family around them in a different kind of setting. Nobody wants to have all that happen in a hospital.”
It is no surprise when Prentice says if you want something done “you can’t leave it to (Alberta Health Services). This problem hasn’t been solved. It is soluble.”
He says Health Minister Stephen Mandel and Seniors Minister Jeff Johnson will be “very hands-on.”
Prentice says there is $180 million sitting in the current budget for seniors’ facilities. He wants it spent.
“The money is already there. I inherited it. I can’t explain why we haven’t built these units.”
The province will be partners with various groups, including “communities of faith.” The government will provide part, but not all, the cash needed.
“We’ve got to move quickly with our partners to build these facilities, to get seniors out of the hospitals and to places they should be in and want to be in,” says Prentice.
He says these facilities will be “publicly available.”
As for getting a handle on the crisis in emergency rooms, Prentice says “it is a resource-allocation problem. There are beds in the system. There are resources in the system.
“Particularly in the hospitals where there’s pressure, they will be able to have the emergency room system functioning the way it should.”