Like Tom Cruise in Ghost Protocol, Health Minister Horne is tearing through the building trying to stay ahead of the explosives he’s set to detonate. The big question is will he make it out in time.
So far Fred has successfully blown up the AHS board, slashed the number of RNs by 200 and jeopardized contract negotiations with the United Nurses of Alberta—all the while amassing a $100 million surplus at AHS.
But his decision to “consolidate” Alberta’s home care agencies from 72 to 13 (with the majority of these being large Ontario based for-profit corporations) has infuriated seniors, unions, public advocacy groups, home care residents, their families and care givers—and they’re fighting back.
Home care is care given to the sick, the frail, the elderly and the disabled living at home, in lodges or supportive living facilities. It includes help with dressing, bathing, meals and medication. It is an intimate relationship that evolves over time between caregivers and their clients. It’s not just a business.
So why is the government switching from the traditional non-profit home care model to for-profit corporate providers? Premier Redford says the switch will “…reduce administration costs so we can continue to put resources into the system.”*
I beg your pardon??? Transferring $371 million in taxpayer dollars to large Ontario-based corporations will save the province a mere $18 million in administration costs.
May I remind the Premier that her own Health Minister pooh-poohed the suggestion that the $100 million AHS surplus was worth getting excited about—it’s equal to three days of operating costs–that makes $18 million equal to a half a day of op costs, right?
Maybe it’s not about the $18 million…
At the June 6, AHS Board meeting, Stephen Lockwood, AHS Chair, said: “we will find more than $200 million in cost-savings this year…I’m not suggesting that this will be easy or that in some areas it will not have an impact on patient care. We will closely monitor and make changes as needed…they are a necessary part of putting more resources into continuing care and other community care including home care, more dollars into new capacity while eliminating unnecessary costs…we will reduce overhead administration costs by at least $25 million over the next three years.”
With that the AHS Board approved two home care service contracts—one with CBI Home Health for $235,707,695 and the other with Bayshore Healthcare for $136,105,945—to provide home care services for Calgary and Edmonton for the next five years.
Just so we’re clear, I’m all for cost reduction, and I’m not assuming that the entire $200 million in cost savings this year and the additional $25 million reduction in administration costs will come from the consolidation of home care; what I don’t understand is how the AHS will achieve any cost savings by entrusting home care to private companies whose raison d’etre is to increase profits?
Where are savings and who gets the benefit
Calgary Family Services, a non-profit that’s provided home care for 68 years, lost its $8 million contract to Bayshore and Revera Home Health, even though it bid the AHS set price. That means that Bayshore and Revera came in with low-ball bids. Calgary Family Services CEO Sue Mallon says: “Having managed this program for a long time, I know there isn’t a lot of money in it. A reduction has to come out of somebody”*
Care to guess who that “somebody” might be? Let’s ask the City of Leduc.
Leduc has provided home care for 34 years. It lost the AHS contract to We Care, Canada’s largest privately owned home care company. Leduc’s 37 caregivers got the boot. We Care said it would take some of them back if they took a 40% pay cut, lost their benefits and traveled from Leduc to Edmonton to pick up their cheques and medical supplies.**Oh, and We Care does not pay mileage. Just think what they would have offered if We Didn’t Care!
The only way a service company can maintain or increase profits is to decrease its costs. This is achieved by paying sub-standard wages to employees who are directed to provide fewer services; for example reducing the number of baths or the time spent in a home visit. Sorry no time to chat, this is a business relationship.
The Hue and Cry
Now this is where it gets interesting. In a classic David and Goliath showdown home care residents, their families, caregivers, seniors and healthcare advocates of all stripes are fighting the consolidation through press conferences, demonstrations, letters to the editor and letters to their MLAs. The opposition parties, particularly the NDP, rallied to the cause…and poor Minister Horne is becoming “increasingly frustrated.”***
He threw Janet Davidson, the AHS Official Administrator, into the breach. Ms Davidson (whose job title should be “The Fixer”) set up an independent appeal panel comprised of lord knows who, which reversed some of the contracts granted to the for-profits. From a legal perspective this sounds like a breach of contract and a breach of tender law, but hey, it’s Fred.
By a strange coincidence all the contract reversals are in Edmonton which picked up 2 new NDP MLAs in the last election.
Dumping Alberta’s elderly, sick, frail and disabled into the arms of for-profit corporations in order to save $18 to 200 (?) million is a heartless short term trade-off which guarantees higher costs in the long run because residents who receive sub-standard home care will quickly move into more expensive auxiliary and long term care facilities.
Public outcry has forced Mr Horne to partially reverse this ill-conceived initiative. In order to ensure Mr Horne’s consolidation mission becomes mission impossible, please attend the Public Interest Alberta rally to be held on Sunday September 8th at 1:00 on the steps of the Legislature (assuming it’s still standing) and other locations around Alberta. Check out the PIA website for more information.
Tom Cruise can escape an exploding building because Ghost Protocol is a movie. But in real life no one can outrun public fury, not even Fred Horne.
Cue the Mission Impossible theme song…da, da, da-da…
Many thanks to Carol Wodak for her assistance in providing background information for this blog.
* Calgary Herald Online, June 8, 2013
**Leducrep.com, July 11, 2013
***Edmonton Journal July 9, 2013