My Elderly Parents Have Been Separated By Health Care

This is an open letter regarding the struggle my octogenarian parents are facing with the private and public health-care system in Alberta. While my parents’ story is not unique, it is time sensitive as my father has been diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer.

My 84-year-old father has moderate dementia and lives in a Calgary Long Term Care facility. He does not remember what he had for breakfast but still knows who his family and friends are. He walks with the aid of a walker, goes to Calgary Flames games with his son-in-law and continually asks “where is your mother?” My 83-year-old mother lives 35 km away in a south Calgary hospital and has been there for no medical reason since August 30, 2015. She shares a room with three other people, two of whom are men.

My mother has all of her faculties, drives a scooter, controls her own finances, gets her hair done once a week, and visits her husband on the opposite side of the city. She is switched on to the contemporary world around her. Due to arthritis she is unable to walk. She has been classified as needing Long Term Care but there is nowhere for her to go.

Last week I was told that the wait list for my father’s facility dates back to 2011 and it may take up to three years for my mother to get a room there. I was also told that my mother does not qualify for the compassionate priority list due to a convoluted policy that requires a move to at least one facility that is not of her choice before the ‘compassionate’ status can be invoked.

I would argue that my mother is already living in a facility (the hospital) not by her choice. I would also argue that the reunification of a couple that have been married for over 60 years, knowing that one of them has a terminal illness and diminishing mental capacities, by any humane interpretation of the word, should qualify as a compassionate priority.

My parent’s story is not a page turner but it is real life in . If you are interested in the abridged version – read on.

In April 2014 they made the decision to leave their home of 40 years and move into a private senior’s facility in Calgary that offered three levels of care: Independent Living, Assisted Living and Memory Care. The facility accepted them as residents, along with the sales pitch about aging in place and how future disruptions would be minimized if and when my father’s early stage dementia progressed and my mother’s mobility became worse. It was a huge move, not without a lot of tears, but eventually they settled in to a nice two bedroom suite and started the next chapter at $7000.00/month rent, might I add!

Six months later my father’s dementia had advanced. The private facility declared that my dad could no longer live there and told us that if we did not cooperate with them they could send my dad to the hospital and not accept him back. My father was transferred to a LTC facility in September 2014.

This was massively upsetting for our entire family and not at all how “the plan” was supposed to work. At that point we started to question the wisdom of selling the house and putting our parent’s future in the hands of this retirement living establishment.

Fast forward to the last week of August 2015. My mother was hospitalized for a minor medication interaction. When the hospital tried to discharge her they were unable to do so because that same facility my mother was living in refused to take her back. Alberta Health Services informed us that because the service provider is a private company they are allowed to refuse readmission.

So how does one end up divorced and homeless by health care?

1. Due to decades of a lack of public funded capital investment in our seniors’ health-care system, the private sector has filled the gap. The catch is that their business model only works for seniors who are basically independent and do not need an elevated level of care.

2. When those seniors start to impact the bottom line of the health care profit model the care management companies have full agency to get rid of them. Our loved ones are dumped back in the public system…except the government has not invested in seniors’ health for decades (see point 1).

3. Many long term care facilities are old and crowded with two beds per room, doorways too narrow for scooters and limited capacity to differentiate across levels of care. People with advanced dementia or those who require 24 hour care are living side by side with people who have no cognitive impairment but are there because they need assistance with mobility transfers. A word of warning: when you get old forget about Peer to Peer contexts — it is not an option!

4. Long Term Care facilities in Calgary have wait lists that are years long. The advice our family has being given by Alberta Health Services is to accept whatever ‘bed’ becomes available for my mother…have her move there and then her priority status will be increased because she will be somewhere she does not want to be which will increase her chances of getting into one of the ‘good places’.

I hope that by bringing public attention my parent’s situation my mother can be transferred from the hospital to my father’s facility. I also want to join the call to demand that a National Seniors Strategy be prioritized by the federal government. Please add your name to the Canadian Medical Association’s Demand a Plan campaign. By doing so, you will be part of the movement that will help bring about the change we need.


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About Susan Kennard