Red Deer and Calgary got some good news last week: 100 new continuing care beds for each of the two cities, to provide a “continuum of care” to seniors requiring everything from supportive living to long-term care. While I think 100 beds might be a rain drop in a river, it’s at least a place to start, and may take some pressure off of hospitals, where a chronic issue of seniors requiring long-term care are forced into acute-care beds due to lack of space in appropriate facilities. You can read the Alberta Party’s media release on that subject here.

The thing is, though, that this is really only good news for Red Deer and Calgary. The Government of Alberta considers this part of their strategy to support seniors to “age in place”. Health Minister Horne says, “Alberta seniors want and deserve options that allow them to stay together with their families and in their communities for as long as possible.” I happen to agree with that statement. So what, then, is happening to foster that opportunity in the hundreds of small communities and expansive rural areas of the province?

There are sixteen cities in Alberta. Now, while we must all acknowledge that the province is definitely urbanizing as time goes on (and there are complex reasons for that shift), cities are still well outnumbered by small communities. Alberta boasts 108 towns, 95 villages, 386 hamlets and 74 rural municipalities. Then there are the dozens of First Nations Reserves. Alberta is a large province with plenty of space between communities. If the government is truly committed to “aging in place”, 100 beds in two cities doesn’t even begin to cut the mustard.

Of course we can’t expect continuing care facilities in every hamlet, village, or town in the province. Lord knows how much money that would take, never mind the fact that we struggle to find enough health care workers for the facilities already in existence.

But if we really got creative, and if the government were really actually committed to continuing care and aging in place, couldn’t we come up with some solutions to give that to all of the wonderful folks who live outside of cities?

Albertans are already asking the government to do just that. Last fall the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA) passed a resolution advocating that the government develop programs and arrange tax incentives so that family members of seniors requiring care could stay home with their elderly loved ones if desired. This resolution maintains that some two-income families with elderly parents are actually paying to house their parents in long-term care facilities and incurring significant expense driving the often extended distances to visit. Some of those folks would love to stay home and keep their loved ones home with them if there were a way. It makes a lot of sense, depending of course on the level of care required. At any rate it would sure be cheaper than trying to keep up with the need by building more and more facilities. Yes, we’ll still need more facilities, but we also need this kind of innovative thinking and creative approach to establish a well-rounded strategy for caring for the aging population.

5,300 more beds by 2015 is not going to be adequate. If that’s the best we’ve got, we’re still gonna see inappropriately placed seniors in acute-care beds, seniors wrenched out of their communities, seniors separated from their spouses and support systems, seniors generating ever-upwardly spiraling costs to the system. It’s time to get serious about new approaches and invest in more than lip service about what Alberta seniors “want and deserve”.

As it stands, you can age in place; just not your place, most of the time.

Tell me what you think.