As shocking as it is an ambulance crew was used by a for-profit Edmonton nursing home to evict an 80-year-old grandmother afflicted with dementia and dump her at a public hospital Emergency Room without telling her family, six months ago this story would have caused barely a ripple in our complacent and inattentive mainstream media.
Yet despite the fact the story was brought to attention yesterday morning by the Alberta Federation of Labour and Public Interest Alberta -- just the kind of progressive voices our homegrown media loves to ignore -- TV and print journalists were out in force to cover the appalling situation.
The reason, it's said here, is not altruism or even the kind of outrageous facts that traditionally make for a great news story. It's because the media smells Tory blood in the water.
With a long-plotted provincial election looming, the Alberta Progressive Conservatives under Premier Alison Redford are suddenly lurching from crisis to crisis. The public and media have started to take note things aren’t exactly going the government’s way.
And the appalling treatment of Grace Denyer, kicked out of the inaptly named Tranquility Care Home in south Edmonton after the private, for-profit, and apparently unregulated operator tried and failed to jack up the rent paid by her family, and dumped dazed and confused at the public Grey Nuns Hospital ER, is certain to focus more public attention on the Redford Tories' plans to privatize and deregulate seniors' care in this province.
In other words, this is yet another crisis for Redford's government -- which is nowadays reeling like a palooka, looking almost as befuddled as the one led by her predecessor Ed Stelmach.
Yesterday morning, you could feel the excitement of the media even before Denyer's daughter went to the microphone to recount the horrifying details of what happened to her mom, who last year also suffered a stroke and has only limited ability to speak, can't walk or feed herself and must wear a pacemaker.
The facts on their own are appalling, and well covered in the media: after growing dissatisfied at the quality of care in a not-for-profit auxiliary hospital in the bedroom suburb of St. Albert, Denyer's family moved her to the private facility that advertised itself as being capable of taking long-term care patients.
They thought they could get a better quality of care, Beth Podgurny of St. Albert told the reporters, and indeed Denyer was in stable condition and showed signs of improvement after the move. But despite signing a contract, within days Podgurny was told by the operator of the Tranquility facility that the $3,495-per-month price the family had negotiated for her mother's care was too low, and was going to have to jump to $4,995. (For only $500 more, the family was told, the company could house Denyer in the basement.)
Podgurny and her husband Jackie thought they were involved in a resolvable dispute over the rent they'd agreed to pay the private operator for Beth's mom’s care. The company apparently saw it as a simple business matter to be handled decisively, and "responded with an eviction notice to take effect in only a matter of days."
The eviction took the form of calling an Alberta Health Services ambulance crew and instructing them to haul Denyer off to the public hospital, which they did. Podgurny and her sister didn't know anything about it until, shocked and frightened, they received phone calls from medical staff at the Grey Nuns.
"We are appalled that our 80-year-old mother was treated liked a commodity instead of being treated with the respect and dignity that all Albertans deserve," Podgurny told the news conference. "The fact that there appears to be nothing under provincial rules to prevent this is mind-boggling. It just goes to show that the privatization solution that Premier Alison Redford is pushing to address long-term-care issues isn't the answer for vulnerable Albertans.
"My family wants answers from the Conservative government," Podgurny stated. "Why was it possible for our mother and our family to be treated in this appalling fashion? Why is this facility allowed to advertise for and accept long-term-care patients when it is not licensed to do? How can they increase the rent in excess of 42 per cent within weeks of entering the home? How can they be allowed to evict and dump a resident at the Emergency door when they decide they no longer want to provide care?"
These are all great questions, and if they get answers, it will only be because the family has made this a public issue on the eve of a general election.
Earlier, Health Minister Fred Horne and Seniors Minister George VanderBurg didn't even bother responding to a letter outlining the family’s concerns about their mother's treatment in St. Albert.
The reality, however, is that Albertans should get used to this sort of thing if the rampant privatization and commercialization of long-term care pushed hard by the Conservative governments of Ralph Klein, Stelmach and now Redford, and advocated by the far-right Wildrose Party as well, are allowed to continue apace.
As Public Interest Alberta Executive-Director Bill Moore-Kilgannon told yesterday's news conference, private long-term care operators have an ugly history of trying to "cherry-pick" low-cost, easy-to-care-for seniors for long-term care and dump the more complex and expensive cases on the public system.
"Unfortunately, this is not the only case we have heard of private facilities forcing seniors out when they feel they are too costly to support," he said. "We are calling on all political parties to commit to build a high-quality public care system for the growing population of seniors with chronic health-care needs -- and to stop the profiteering off our most vulnerable seniors."
Well, good luck with that with a government deeply committed to letting the private sector take over the public job of providing long-term care for vulnerable seniors, the better to provide families with "choice" -- you know, the choice of paying more or having their loved ones abandoned at a busy urban Emergency Ward.
Indeed, here in Alberta, taxpayers' dollars are being funnelled by the millions into subsidizing private, for-profit care of just the type experienced by Denyer and her family.
At the very least, Podgurny said, "the government has to step up to the plate and they have to put the accountability back into the system. And they have to do it immediately."
"I said I would never let that happen to my mother before she was in long-term care," Podgurny told reporters, brushing aside a tear. "And it happened right before my eyes and there was nothing we could do about it!"
Now that it's become another election issue, it'll be interesting to see what Redford, Horne, VanderBurg and other members of the government have to say about the shocking treatment meted out to Grace Denyer.
The nursing home operator, whom reporters complained they were having trouble contacting, has apparently left the country, Moore-Kilgannon told reporters.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.
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