A senior care backlog in Alberta, which is particularly being seen in Cold Lake and Bonnyville, has become a pressing concern for policymakers and healthcare providers. Chantel Downes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

LAKELAND – A senior care backlog in Alberta, which is particularly being seen in Cold Lake and Bonnyville, has become a pressing concern for policymakers and healthcare providers.  

In a City of Cold Lake council meeting on March 12, Coun. Chris Vining highlighted the complexities of the issue. He noted that during the previous week, he had spent time having discussions with Covenant Health and the Bonnyville Health Centre. 

“We met with members from Covenant Health and the Bonnyville Health Centre to address issues around keeping residents in the Lodge, specifically the Bonnyville Lodge. We discussed similar issues faced in Cold Lake, indicating a common challenge across the region,” said Vining. 

The situation is worsened by the occupancy of acute care beds by patients awaiting long-term or extended care placement.  

“At any given time, 50 per cent or more of Bonnyville’s acute care beds are occupied by patients awaiting placement, leading to a backlog in their ER,” said Vining. “And we’ve heard the same issue here at the Cold Lake Health Centre as well.” 

He emphasized the need for solutions, stating, “We need to explore ways to increase the level of service and address the growing demand for care.” 

One of the key challenges identified is the evolving demographics of lodge residents. “Our residents now entering lodges are much older than in the past, with an average age in their late 70s to early 80s. This shift has resulted in residents with more complex health needs, surpassing the capabilities of the current lodge care model,” said Vining. 

The strain on healthcare resources is evident, with Vining citing examples of staff limitations in handling medical emergencies within lodges, leading to ambulance transfers and subsequent hospital admissions. This cycle contributes to the backlog in emergency care beds and further delays in care transitions. 

To address these challenges, discussions have been initiated with Covenant Health and Alberta Health Services (AHS) to explore potential solutions. 

“We have engaged in productive conversations and site visits to identify opportunities for enhancing services and improving care pathways.” 

However, funding constraints pose a significant hurdle, as Vining explained, “The province has halted funding for ‘Designated Supported Living’ (DSL 3), essential for providing 24-hour low-level care in lodges. This funding gap hinders our ability to meet the evolving needs of lodge residents.” 

In an announcement made on March 14, the Government of Alberta said it was committing to “investing $1.7 billion in continuing care to improve access to health care by reducing wait times for alternative level of care patients.”  

Premier Danielle Smith highlighted government initiatives aimed at reducing the backlog and improving access to care. She stated, “We have seen a reduction in patients waiting for continuing care facilities, but there are still delays affecting patient outcomes.” 

According to the Government of Alberta, “on average, there are about 1,500 Albertans who have finished their required hospital care and are waiting in hospital beds until they can be moved to a more appropriate setting, such as a continuing care space or community care services. This represents almost 18 per cent of all acute care spaces in the province, and Albertans in these situations are known as alternate level of care (ALC) patients.” 

The provincial government reports that change is happening, and since December, there has been a reduction “in the number of ALC patients specifically waiting for transfer to a continuing care facility by almost 30 per cent.” 

Minister of Health Adriana LaGrange emphasized ongoing investments in transforming continuing care and enhancing community care services. She said, “Our goal is to ensure Albertans receive the right level of care in a timely manner, addressing pressures on acute care facilities.” 

Minister of Seniors, Community, and Social Services Jason Nixon echoed these sentiments, emphasizing the importance of dignity and respect in care delivery. He stated, “Our focus is on creating sustainable care options that meet the diverse needs of seniors and promote quality of life.” 

The province has allocated $654 million in funding over three years for the Continuing Care Capital Program, which should improve access to continuing care spaces for Albertans, “including those who no longer need to stay at a hospital but require further support,” according to the Government of Alberta. 

To address ALC patient placements, several departments will work together to ensure patients get the care they need. Tactical teams will be created, an a “Specialized Patient Flow Improvement Team” will review hospital patient flow and processes. 

Home care providers will also collaborate to get patients back to their homes sooner, according to the Government of Alberta. 

By Chantel Downes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Mar 18, 2024 at 13:00

This item reprinted with permission from   Lakeland This Week   Bonnyville, Alberta

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