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Public Interest Alberta Advocates For a Seniors’ Advocate

By Nazeefa Ahmed, August 8 2022

On June 15, Public Interest Alberta and Friends of Medicare called on the United Conservative Party (UCP) to bring a Seniors Advocate to the provincial government. 

Public Interest Alberta (PIA) is a non-profit organization that lobbies and advocates for the collective interests of Albertans on education, advocacy and public interest issues. 

In an interview with the Gauntlet, executive director Brad Lafortune described how the UCP government’s policies have harmed seniors in Alberta. 

“The provincial government has the primary responsibility to fund and be the administer of that care in our system for seniors,” Lafortune said. “What we have seen for these three years by this government is that funding isn’t adequate to meet the needs of our aging population. Anytime that we have called for a complete review and overhaul of the system, it’s fallen on deaf ears.” 

Lafortune, as well as PIA, have called for an independent seniors advocate in the provincial government. Currently, British Columbia has a seniors advocate model that Lafortune would like to inplement for Alberta. 

“We believe that an independent seniors advocate in Alberta would be a crucial step in improving the quality of seniors care in the province,” Lafortune said. “Right now, we have a government that is very much focused on their electability in the next provincial election. We don’t have an independent voice with access to information and the policy development process and decision makers to really audit and analyze and make recommendations regarding the quality of the system.”

PIA talks with seniors who have cited their experiences of care. Lafortune described the history of seniors care in Alberta, as well as the harm of privatizing an essential service.  

“What we hear from seniors in Alberta in particular is that with the changes and erosion of the quality of care, seniors’ care and stories of elder abuse in the system have increased over the years,” Lafortune said. “Largely, that is a result of defunding, deregulation and privatization of seniors’ care across the province. Any time the profit motive is introduced to an essential service, the dollars go towards shareholders rather than back into the system to improve the quality of care.

“We have been advocating for national long-term care standards for a long time now,” Lafortune continued. “We know that with so many private operators in each province, there is a very concerning trend of diminishment of care. This means fewer care hours for each individual, for example, or underqualified carers.”

PIA supports home-based care as a solution to the privatization of seniors care. However, Lafortune describes how theory does not always result in practice. 

“More and more, the province has concluded that the best way to meet the needs of an aging population in Alberta is to move towards more home-based care,” Lafortune said. “While this is good in theory, the big challenge is to make sure that the care is high-quality and meets the standards that would be expected under best practices, and national care protocols across the country.”

For solutions that make an impact, Lafortune encourages policy makers to speak to those who live through the system, rather than taking the advice of third parties.

“Rather than listening to seniors themselves with living experience or doctors or medical professionals or advocates, [the government] instead turns to third parties to do audits of the system from an affordability and efficiency point of view,” Lafortune said. “They are more interested in the long-term efficiency of the system and making it cheaper for the province to fund by partnering with private providers than they are at increasing the quality of the system for seniors that access those services.”

“When we talk to seniors, we hear over and over again how seniors who live in Alberta don’t feel supported to live a dignified quality of life,” Lafortune continued. “Seniors often feel warehoused and forgotten. There is a really high prevalence of isolation, loneliness and depression among older persons in Alberta. Those kinds of environments can lead to situations where elder abuse is taking place and often unseen. People can be taken advantage of. It is very heartbreaking and it is true that we can do a lot better but it requires listening to people who are living in the system and experiencing the services.”

For more information about PIA and the lobbying they do for provincial causes, visit their website. To become an advocate for seniors in Alberta, go to the Alberta Seniors Deserve Better campaign website.

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