Alberta Auditor General Doug Wylie (Photo: Legislative Assembly of Alberta).

It’s not exactly news that Alberta needs a staffing strategy for continuing care homes to prevent worker burnout and the kind of deaths seen the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Health Minister Jason Copping (Photo: Legislative Assembly of Alberta).

That thought led the news just the same in Alberta yesterday after the province’s auditor general published a report, COVID-19 in Continuing Care Facilities, stating the obvious.

Doug Wylie’s mostly mild mannered observations got the expected response from the government – Health Minister Jason Copping pledged to do the right thing and accept all the report’s mostly anodyne recommendations and those in another recent report on seniors’ in long-term care. 

“Insufficient preparedness, severe care staffing shortages, and outdated infrastructure were among the key findings in a newly released Report of the Auditor General – COVID-19 in Continuing Care Facilities,” said the lead sentence of Mr. Wylie’s news release

Now, this should be a damning indictment. Sure we had a plan … it just wasn’t much of a plan. And, yes, we were short of staff, but judging from the situation throughout the health care system and the country, nobody in power actually has any ideas about how to fix things, especially if that means paying health care workers what they’re worth. Plus the private sector’s infrastructure is a shambles, a predictable consequence of letting the profit motive influence health policy decisions.

It wasn’t as if the Alberta Government wasn’t warned of the problems inherent in all of those things. 

Opposition Health Critic David Shepherd (Photo: Legislative Assembly of Alberta).

But, gee whiz, Mr. Wylie said, “We cannot overstate the dedication, focus, and care shown by people across the system in responding to COVID-19.” This is an indisputable fact, but it does very little to fix the problems in continuing care. 

“It is critical that this same unwavering effort now be directed to learn from these experiences and make the necessary improvements to better care for our vulnerable seniors,” his statement continued, also true, but also unlikely to result in meaningful change. 

Mr. Copping’s response was upbeat and optimistic. “Alberta’s government is already working to address the concerns listed in the report, like enhancing infection control measures,” he said in a news release that praised the AG’s work

“Budget 2023, if passed, would also provide for additional action on the recommendations from the auditor general’s report,” he said, pretending that there’s always a possibility that the UCP majority in the Legislature might not pass next Tuesday’s budget and bring down the government instead just as an election is looming. Needless to say, this is not likely. 

“The government has accepted all of the auditor general’s recommendations identified in both reports, and we are committed to undertaking this important work for the benefit of all Albertans,” Mr. Copping concluded reassuringly. 

Alas, as Opposition Health Critic David Shepherd observed yesterday, the problems of the system stem from the flaws of the private, for-profit delivery model preferred by the UCP government. 

Mr. Shepherd told the CBC’s reporter that, if elected on May 29, the NDP would open only publicly run continuing care centres. 

Interestingly, that point was not made in Mr. Shepherd’s news release, which did note though that “many of the Auditor General’s recommendations are ones that were put forward in 2021 from the government’s own committee that looked into long-term care.

“It is cynical of the government to say they will accept the recommendation for paid sick leave now that the height of the crisis is over,” he said. “Paid sick leave was something we began advocating for in 2020 and they rejected it when it was most needed.

Well, fair enough. But half a loaf is better than none – if a UCP government could be trusted to keep such a promise, that is. 

Mr. Shepherd made another important point that bears keeping in mind 

“Under Jason Kenney, we had one of the worst COVID-19 responses in the country. Now, we have a premier who spent much of the past few years, in the midst of this pandemic, downplaying the gravity of the situation. Danielle Smith is still trying to claim it was all some kind of hoax.

“Imagine if Danielle Smith had been in charge. I fear it would have been one of the worst responses in the world,” he said. “It’s frightening to contemplate what would have happened if Alberta had followed Danielle Smith’s advice to copy the disastrous responses in South Dakota or Florida and simply let the virus rip through seniors homes, schools, and workplaces.”

There is that, isn’t there? 

Join the Conversation


  1. In fairness to Kenney and the UCP, I don’t think they started their war against doctors, other health care workers and the health care system itself, expecting something like COVID would happen. However, regardless they put the health care in a poor position to deal with this crisis and were slow to end their war even as it became apparent how bad COVID was going to be.

    Even worse, most of that Kenney cabinet are still around. The former health minister who does not seem very contrite about this is still a minister in Smith’s cabinet, although now in another position where his belligerence is not aimed as directly against health care workers.

    It is doubtful that our current COVID denying Premier Smith, who was not around in power then, would have handled things any better, probably it would have been worse. However, energy prices are still high enough now that she can now promise to spend more money, which she desperately needs to do to win reelection, not because she has had a change of heart. Whether this lasts much beyond the election is at best uncertain and more likely doubtful.

    No doubt Smith and the UCP if reelected will revert to more privatization, which they have all been talking about for some time and Smith’s previously talked about health spending accounts, which will be a way to facilitate this and reduce public health care spending.

    So I feel a very good slogan for the upcoming election, when it comes to Smith and the UCP, is “We won’t get fooled again”. Although it is now many decades old, it is also a catchy and quite good song from the British band The Who.

    1. Mr ‘Dave’: “In fairness to Kenney and the UCP, I don’t think they started their war against doctors, other health care workers and the health care system itself, expecting something like COVID would happen.” Of course not, but that’s actually the heart of the issue.

      For years – in fact, decades — there’s been this neo-liberal notion that health care, even in a public system, needs to be “run like a business” and must seek out “inefficiencies” to be wiped out. In this paradigm, excess capacity is seen as “waste and inefficiency”, and so we see staffing levels trimmed to the bone, increasing “casualization” of the work force, system capacity reductions, and “just-in-time” staffing models. Then when there is any increased pressure on the system — even something as relatively mundane as a routine seasonal influenza or norovirus outbreak, never mind a global pandemic — the system creaks under the strain due to lack of surge capacity.

      If big city fire departments ran like that, there’d be nobody in fire stations until the alarms went off, and response times would be abysmal. (Yes, I know, this is the current state in small towns and rural areas with only volunteer firefighters, but that’s a conversation for another day).

      So-called “excess capacity” in health care isn’t “waste”; it’s prudent management and the ability to flex and surge in an industry in which much of its demand is completely unpredictable except in the purely statistical sense. If there are empty beds, great; it means when you fall and break your hip, there’ll be a bed waiting for you instead of having to lie in a hard stretcher in the Emerg. If there are more nurses working on a shift than are strictly needed, great; they can offer patients a bit more TLC than they might otherwise get, or work on continuing professional development or on updating policies and procedures, or mentor newer staff and nursing students.

      Remember, COVID isn’t the first pandemic this century; we had the H1N1 swine-origin influenza-A of 2009, and SARS 1.0 in 2003 almost also became one.

      The stresses and strains caused by — or, in many cases, only exacerbated by — COVID-19 were entirely predictable and largely preventable. But neo-liberal ideology kept that from happening.

  2. How will Preston Manning cover up Doug Wylie’s findings on how the UCP responded to the Covid-19 pandemic in Alberta, let alone how Danielle Smith has dealt with this issue, after she became the UCP leader, and premier of Alberta? I think Danielle Smith will probably find a way to terminate Doug Wylie from his position, like she did with Dr. Deena Hinshaw. The truth is just too embarrassing for the UCP to handle, and Alberta had the dismal record of Covid-19 case numbers to prove it. Canada wide, leading in Covid-19 case numbers, numerous times, and even continent wide, nearly two years ago. The UCP refuses to accept being responsible for this nightmare, so they had to blame Dr. Deena Hinshaw, AHS, or anyone else for their failures of epic proportions. It will be certainly interesting to see what Preston Manning’s report will conjure up. For $253,000, he will fabricate something. Likely, he probably has the report done, and will try to make it look like the UCP aren’t at fault, but I still wouldn’t argue with Doug Wylie and his findings. Apparently, Alberta still has Covid-19 case numbers that aren’t so great. Danielle Smith doesn’t care about that. So pathetic.

  3. “In all fairness to Jason Kenney…”

    How about “In all fairness to Adolf Hitler and his Nazi cohort, occupying all of Europe did include Norway, which was not exactly much of a prize.”

  4. Anyone who had a family member in a private care home during the pandemic knows how bad things are. Did you know that some places laid off staff a few months after the corporations received government money? It sounds unbelievable, but it’s true.

    I often wonder if the greatest opposition to MAID comes from corporations that run for-profit care homes for seniors. They want to drain client savings dry, and MAID won’t let them. I don’t want to spend my final years with in a private “care” home, after what I’ve seen. It’s heartbreaking. There is life at great cost in private care, or quality of life remaining. I’d rather the latter.

    Profits drive the private elder care home industry, not people. We need to remember that will be true if Danielle Smith and the UCP have their way with the rest of our health care system. Human suffering does not even enter the equation.

    1. @Abs: Opposition to medical assistance in dying, or MAiD, comes from two fronts: religious groups that seek to impose their morality on the larger society, instead of only their own adherents, and advocates for persons with disabilities, legitimately concerned that MAiD might be seen as an option for those who are becoming too much of an economic burden on society. I have seen no evidence of any connection between opposition to MAiD and the private for- profit continuing care industry. And, in fact, many people at the end of their lives that seek to exit on their own terms are not in continuing care but still living at home.

      So, while I’m as ready to throw stones at the private for-profit continuing care industry as anyone here, I think, with respect, that your suggestion is a bit out there.

      1. “Out there” is in the eyes of the beholder. I assume you have not experienced issues in your own family with access to end-of-life care options for a relative in a private assisted living care home during the pandemic. My lived experience is real. It is story involving a private home obstructing a patient’s access to that care. Retain the client, rather than let them choose, was their priority. This has informed my opinion that MAID and even hospice work against the financial interests and profitability of private care homes. Their best interest is in retaining the monthly payments by clients, period. Whether or not the industry has a formal lobby group, I don’t know.

  5. “We cannot overstate the dedication, focus, and care shown by people across the system in responding to COVID-19.”
    “We cannot overstate the dedication, focus, and care shown by people at the bottom and middle of the system in responding to COVID-19.”

  6. It was Ralph Klein who told us that he had no intention of creating more long term health care beds. He would make it so profitable that the private sector would take it over. In other words another privatization situation and that’s what happened. When our family needed a bed there was a waiting list of over 1,800 people for the public sector, so we had to accept a private one in Calgary at a cost of $10,600. per month, yes $10,600.per month. A base cost of $7, a full time health care provider ,she desperately needed , at an additional cost of $3,600.per month for 5 years. A wonder how many of these ignorant seniors supporting these Reformers could afford that? We weren’t alone, one family told me they paid $14,000. per month for 6 years. Another guy told me that he had paid out $368, 000. for his mother. Another one told me that he had paid out $464,000. and his parents were still living and he was still paying it. When he asked for help from the government they suggested he sell their house. The problem was he was living in it, he had sold his own house to get the other $464,000.
    Just one more thing we can thank Ralph Klein for.

  7. On two occasions when my son in-laws father went to visit his mother in a private for profit facility he found her gasping for air, her oxygen tank had run out and there was no one there to help her.
    Another guy told of what happened to his mother in a private facility in Calgary. Three days before Christmas him and his brother went to visit her. She was 94 years old and didn’t even know them but what they found was sickening and should never have happened. She wasn’t in her room , so they split up and each went down different hallway to see if she might have been put in a wrong room. The staff they talked to could have cared less. They couldn’t find her. They saw a group of men down another hallway and went to see if they knew where she was. They found her naked from the waist down sitting on a toilet with the door wide open and these dirty old men staring at her. They told them that she had been there for over an hour. It was like she had been deliberately put on display. After getting her back in bed they found her rings had been cut off and likely stolen, they couldn’t get them off when they put her in there. In addition one of her very expensive hearing aids was missing. They went to the administration office to report what they had found and the woman there gave them the impression that she didn’t care. She said” One of these days we will look for your mothers stuff”. Three days after Christmas they went back and she told them they still hadn’t bothered to look for her stuff. Bob’s brother said “ Maybe we should talk to a lawyer”. Her response was “You can’t sue us you signed an agreement when you put her in here.
    I have told these stories to many people including MLAs of the day and they didn’t seem to care. One was our seniors minister. Stan ?and he said they had rules and regulations they must follow , but couldn’t tell me if anyone was making certain they were being followed.Not long after that two people were scaled to death by untrained workers and a man told me that he had now heard of 4 cases of rings being cut off fingers and stolen. The morale of this story is don’t get sick, for gods sake.

    1. Alan K. Spiller: That seniors minister under Ralph Klein was Stan Woloshyn. He was very bad. Even in Ontario, there has been problems with these private for profit long term care facilities. Mike Harris, another well known pseudo conservative and Reformer, who was a good friend of Ralph Klein, created that mess in Ontario. Now, we hear that people regret giving Doug Ford a second term. I wonder how many people here in Alberta regret supporting the UCP?

  8. The UCP policy for healthcare and long-term care will worsen the lives of Albertans. It defies all the evidence for them to delegate more power over the standards and delivery of healthcare to the ‘markets’ via the private unaccountable government of for-profit businesses/corporations.

    EXCERPT: ‘the problems of the system stem from the flaws of the private, for-profit delivery model preferred by the UCP government. ‘

    EXCERPT: ‘the private sector’s infrastructure is a shambles, a predictable consequence of letting the profit motive influence health policy decisions.’

    Public health ought to be governed by public accountable government.

    Instead we’ve got market fundamentalists like the UCP party ignoring all the evidence of the worst outcomes for long term care are when it’s privatized, commodified, turned into investment that can be traded on stock markets.

  9. TGIF! Thank goodness it’s Freya’s Day!—the traditional day when governing parties discretely issue unflattering announcements like the Auditor General’s in hopes that citizens will be too distracted by weekend prospects to notice or, if they aren’t, won’t likely remember it by Moon’s Day after erasing their political memories with more than two drinks over those precious two days of rest.

    Alternatively, they might get together and analyze the AG’s report over veggie-burgers and carrot juice, having found time to study it after a bracing mountain-bike ride to the local alpine peak and back.

    The UCP’s reticence to remind Albertans what a hash it made of the healthcare system in the time of Covid is understandable. Its policies swamped hospitals while it hectored essential healthcare personnel— even during the worst depths of the pandemic, ranking its response at rock bottom. It can’t very well plead: ‘at least it almost wasn’t as bad as in the USA…”

    The quandary is that neither can the UCP ignore the Loyal Opposition’s first cautious probing of the rookie government’s exposed backside. There’s not a long way to go before UCP campaign bullhorns try to drown out criticism, especially of its record on public healthcare and Covid, no matter how much deserved. Of course there’ll be more criticism from the Opposition in the days and weeks to come—and much, much more after the writ is dropped for the scheduled election in 93 days from today. Presuming a 30-day campaign period, that leaves 63 days until the question of the fixed-date is put to rest. It’s still a definite maybe—Danielle Smith’s at the helm, after all.

    Certainly the NDP platform will be heavy on healthcare, but not simply because that’s where the UCP is most vulnerable: it’s also because public healthcare in general has long needed deep, systemic overhaul which the NDP—which inherited a bevy of urgent files from its Conservative predecessor—had not the time to complete the daunting task in the space of a single term. With the 2019 UCP victory, the task has not only been put on hold, but the public system has been further jeopardized. That’s the UCP legacy.

    The NDP’s counter-proposals won’t be fully revealed until the writ is dropped and, even then, won’t be revealed all at once but, rather, rolled out gradually in the most propitious way during the campaign, presumably saving the knockout until the eve before the polls open. Even if the UCP is still swinging wildly at JT hallucinations by the final bell, judges’ scorecards will be sufficiently filled-out to make a decision—the voters, that is. The NDP’s discretion until then won’t be substituted with taunting braggadocio, a la Ali—, no matter how much the polls might appear to warrant. An abundance of caution indicates how seriously former-Premier Rachel Notley takes the approaching contest.

    Old Shoot-From-the-Lip Auntie Wokely has been conspicuously quiet lately. Is it a sign that the fixed date will be honoured and Danielle Smith is in retreat polishing her platform so she won’t accidentally give away any of her patented policy surprises before the campaign proper? Or has she been reeled-in so she can’t publicly put her boot in her mouth at a party’s existentially critical time like she’s done twice before?

    I’m reminded of BC premier Christy Clark whom the BC Liberal cabinet sequestered in the premierial rumpus-room after NDP Opposition leader John Horgan promised to sue her if she didn’t retract a defamatory falsehood blurted out by her auto-tongue special FX just weeks before the official 2017 campaign began: Horgan got the public apology he demanded (she left it on his answering machine and news media replayed it for several delicious days) and Christy became uncharacteristically circumspect and non-combative for the rest of the campaign.

    Unable to keep Christy grounded during stumping season, BC Liberal strategists decided to restrict her to the remote northeast of the province rather than risk her misspeaking in the populous southwest—that is, at risk of the NDP overrunning the “free-enterprise party’s” well-dug-in positions in the Lower Mainland from which it had successfully repelled the “socialist hordes” for so long.

    In fact, that’s exactly what the NDP did do, but only enough to allow Christy to squeak a minority government. Pundits still debate whether relegating Christy to BC’s Great Plains where she stumped at the controversial Site-C Dam cost the BC Liberals’ majority or if it actually saved them from a worse drubbing had she stumped in the Lower Mainland where most voters live. (In any case, the BC Liberal minority lost a confidence vote on its very first bill of the new parliament, the NDP returning to power after 16 years in the wilderness, supported by an alliance with the Green Party.)

    Could there be a UCP faction keeping Danielle out of trouble? If the vigil is as dys-unified as the party itself, how does the other faction feel about this strategy? Are there UCP mavericks liable to stir up inconvenient prairie dust if triggered by Danielle’s absence? Will she be relegated to stumping in the hinterlands just to keep renegades from jumping the gun? Will she stump only to safe, partisan crowds way out where survivalist Wexiteers bite a bullet with a slug of moonshine, get a wolverine to lick a festering wound, snort black-powder for cerebral hook worms, and knead tobacco chaw and horse-spittle to treat cowboy pink-eye? Up to where “universal public healthcare” is fightin’ words?

    Might save the UCP from a worse drubbing if Danielle were to campaign in urban Alberta.

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