Alberta's provincial government is vowing to add and replace more than 6,000 continuing care beds in the next four years.
Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced Friday that $400 million in operational funding will be devoted to a new version of the Affordable Supportive Living Initiative to create new beds or upgrade existing spaces in publicly funded facilities in the province.
The minister estimated 2,200 of those would be new spaces and an additional 3,800 would be replacements.
"Taking innovative approaches to develop additional continuing care capacity is critically important," Shandro said.
"Through this work, more Albertans will have access to high quality continuing care. Now and in the years ahead."
More than 340 beds will be added this year in communities like Calgary, Edmonton, Red Deer and Medicine Hat.
The number of seniors in Alberta is projected to double over the next 20 years, up to 1.1 million, ballooning the need for continuing care services by 62 per cent by 2030, Shandro said.
He added that addressing these spaces should also give hospitals greater capacity as they'll have fewer seniors waiting for a spot in a facility.
Concern over lack of details
One seniors' advocate is concerned about the lack of details and says more capital will likely be needed beyond operational funding.
"This announcement basically didn't provide any kind of information around, for example, the level of care that these beds will be providing," Sandra Azocar, the executive director of Friends of Medicare, said.
"I think [the only] way that this announcement would be beneficial to Albertans is if we actually had facilities where profit was not a motive … I don't know if this is going to be enough money to ensure that the circumstances that seniors went through during this pandemic will be remedied in any meaningful way going forward."
The opposition NDP echoed many of those concerns.
"Shandro said nothing today about what levels of care will be provided with this funding. We know that supportive living level 4, and dementia care, will be in great demand in the coming years," health critic David Shepherd said in a statement, referring to some of the most advanced levels of assisted living.
"I hope he will focus this spending on projects that meet Albertans' health needs, and not simply ones that maximize the operator's profit margins with lower levels of care."
Shandro mentioned more money is earmarked in Budget 2021 for continuing care initiatives, and that the government would have further details and announcements in the coming months. He also added that facilities will be responsible to increase staffing, and Alberta Health Services will also play a role in addressing staffing needs.
A recent review of facility-based continuing care found that 8,000 beds in the province are in need of replacement because they don't meet modern care requirements. Last year the province added 2,600 beds in 26 communities. About $1.2 billion is set aside in Budget 2021 for continuing care.