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Athabasca and Westlock identified for continuing care projects

Province urges operators to submit expressions of interest to help expand capacity 
The Alberta government is now seeking proposals from new and existing continuing care operators, like Extendicare in Athabasca for instance, to consider adding publicly-funded continuing care spaces without additional capital funding from the province. Athabasca and Westlock were identified as two of 31 communities that were identified to be most in need.  Heather Stocking/AA

ATHABASCA/WESTLOCK - The Alberta government is looking to provide more continuing care spaces in Athabasca, Westlock and 29 other communities across the province by seeking proposals from new and existing operators to add publicly-funded spaces without additional capital funding from the government. 

Alberta premier Jason Kenney made the announcement Sept. 1 following a detailed analysis by Alberta Health Services that identified 31 communities most in need of new continuing care spaces based on current and projected demand and supply, age of the population, and health-care utilization. 

“Alberta seniors are cherished members of our communities. To meet their needs, we’re developing new continuing care spaces in priority communities across Alberta and continuing our government’s platform commitment to reinstate the Alberta Supportive Living Initiative,” said the premier. “Through this work, hundreds of Alberta seniors will have better access to high-quality continuing care close to family and friends – quickly and cost-effectively.” 

Interested operators in priority communities are invited to submit proposals through an expression of interest (EOI) process if they have capacity to operate new continuing care spaces, under contract with AHS. 

Athabasca County Coun. Doris Splane also chairs the Greater North Foundation, whose mandate is to provide seniors with accommodations and other subsidized housing options in Athabasca, Boyle, Lac La Biche and Plamondon areas. 

“Anybody that puts forth a proposal has to be able to finance the infrastructure, or the original dollars to build or renovate. These dollars they’re announcing will just help to staff a new facility of new beds,” she said. 

What she is describing is a public-private partnership, also referred to as a P3, though the government did not use those specific terms. 

Homeland Housing is the Greater North Foundation’s counterpart in the Westlock area and Town of Westlock Coun. Clem Fagnan chairs the board. Smithfield Lodge, in Westlock, previously had its original 44 units converted to SL3 and SL4 categories, which refers to the level of supportive living that is required by residents. 

“We do the housing and Alberta Health does the staffing part,” he said. “In this area, we’ve always been short of continuing care spaces, so we’ve slowly been converting these rooms.” 

Fagnan confirmed Homeland Housing has put in a proposal to the government, that includes a partner, but he was unable to get into specifics about the potential project. 

Nor was Homeland Housing CEO Raymond Cormie, but to him, the announcement is good news. 

“The government announcement is basically looking at existing capacity within the system, so it’s an opportunity for operators that have existing space to be able to convert those into designated supportive living, or long-term care beds or spaces, and then there is the opportunity for any kind of P3 partnership,” said Cormie, who said the organization has been exploring these ideas for the last few months. 

One of the issues when looking to convert existing sites, is the requirements under the AHS 2018 design guidelines for long-term care and supportive living, along with current building codes. 

“Part of the challenge when you have older sites is the design guidelines don’t tend to lend well to a quick or inexpensive conversion to go from a traditional lodge program to SL4 or long-term care,” said Cormie. 

In March, there were 27,518 continuing care spaces in Alberta, with an average wait time of 54 days from application to move-in and there are currently 400 people waiting in acute care for continuing care spaces to become available, according to numbers provided by the government. 

AHS operates 103 continuing care facilities in Alberta, but there are also 126 privately-operated facilities and 124 non-profit facilities offering continuing care services. 

“The other thing that is important in this too is the ability for people to age and remain in their community and have those services provided, as opposed to having to relocate to a more urban centre,” said Cormie.