Braid: Patients should come first in arrangements By Don Braid, Calgary Herald July 6, 2011 8:04 AM
Almost routinely, Alberta's health system produces yet another Charles Dickens moment. The latest is the looming eviction of 29 seniors from assisted living spaces subsidized by the province.
The reason, you'll read in stories by the Herald's Matt McClure, is that the private owners of the rooms want to make more money.
With a bit of upgrading, says Chartwell Seniors Housing official Richard Noonan, "we'll be able to charge whatever the market can bear."
Now that's a company so honest, in the Dickensian way, that you almost have to admire it.
It's seniors out, money in. No guff at all. There's more cash in store for the investors in Chartwell's REIT, or Real Estate Investment Trust.
We know exactly what Chartwell is; a profit-making, publicly traded company that seeks maximum returns. Anger at the company is misdirected; it would be like getting mad at your dog for soaking a fire hydrant.
But Alberta Health Services is another matter. Not for the first time, muddled public-private arrangements will cause great hardship to individuals.
Those include Len Lomore, 92, a veteran who moved in just three months ago, only to be told he's out by September.
The bleaker irony is that the Chartwell rooms are at the Colonel Belcher, on the successor site to Calgary's famous hospital for veterans. The original opened in 1919 for veterans of the First World War.
Today, the mystery is why seniors like Len Lomore continued to be placed in these rooms when the province's lease expired in January, and was never renewed.
Details are murky, but it seems that Chartwell decided not to renew, to operate the rooms with its own employees outside the public system.
As the refreshingly blunt Mr. Noonan says: "We prefer whenever possible that our employees provide care services, meals, programming rather than a third-party provider."
The "third-party provider," in this case, is AHS itself.
With no lease in effect, Chartwell appears entirely within its rights to evict the seniors with proper notice, and send the facility upscale to earn more profit.
There's an alarming echo here of the mid-decade "condo-ization" craze that saw hundreds of Calgarians driven out of apartments by higher rents, so owners could convert buildings to more profitable condos.
How many more seniors in private facilities might be vulnerable to trends like that? We never seem to know until it actually happens.
When it does, whether in senior care or other facilities, the public is always stuck with the cost of finding spaces and moving people, while families and residents face a heavy burden of fear and stress.
In February, 37 residents of Sunnyhill Wellness Centre were moved after the owners decided not to renew their contract with AHS.
The residents, including six with mental illness, were scattered to six locations around the city.
In early 2010 the dynamic was reversed when the province terminated its contract with the Health Resources Centre, a private hip and knee surgery clinic.
The company had built a new clinic but found itself without sufficient work from the public system. The ugly fallout cost the province millions in receivership and other fees.
At a bare minimum, the province needs to ensure that seniors and patients always come first in its myriad arrangements with these providers. Longer leases, as the province now seems to promise, would be a start.
For the moment, though, we actually have a system that cannot prevent a 92-year-old war veteran from being kicked out of his home.
Dickens, the great 19th-century chronicler of social injustice, could have made a whole chapter out of that.
Don Braid's column appears regularly in the Herald. firstname.lastname@example.org
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