Why are we so short of continuing care beds in Alberta?

Alberta faces a massive increase in demand for seniors care beds in the province as the baby boom generation reaches retirement age between 2011 and 2030.

The numbers are staggering. Currently there are about 470,000 seniors over the age of 65 in the province.  That number will swell to 804,000 in 2025 and 1.13 million in 2035.

That is an increase of nearly 130 per cent, or about 635,000 more people of retirement age in only 20 years.

When you look at the number of Albertans who will be 75 or older over the same period, the picture is grim. There are currently 201,000 Albertans over 75. Of those, Alberta Health Services estimates 12 per cent of them need some level of seniors care.

That means we currently need 24,000 beds for this age group alone, never mind anyone younger who needs care. Currently only have 22,867 beds in total. Small wonder that seniors are occupying very expensive acute care beds in hospitals. There is no place else they can get the care they need.

This shortage is only going to get worse, much worse. The government’s plans for increasing spaces don’t keep up with its projections for growth in the seniors population 

By 2025 there will be 329,000 seniors over 75 years old . Ten years after that the number will swell to 578,000. To meet its own targets, the province should have 39,480 continuing care beds in 2025 and 69,360 beds by 2035.

That means that to even come close to that target, AHS is going to have to create more than 2,300 beds each year between now and 2035 to meet the projected demand.

Moreover, the mix of those beds between the lowest level of care (DSL3) and the highest level of care in Nursing Homes and Auxiliary Hospitals has to be carefully planned to meet expected needs. It does no one any good when seniors who need higher levels of care are forced into lower care levels because of lack of space. all that happens then is that people who need continuing care end up in far more expensive acute care beds.

The sad thing about this is that the Alberta government has been discussing the coming baby boom “grey tsunami” since the late 1980’s. From 1990 through to today, a smart, proactive government would have been building new facilities at all levels of care in preparation. Instead, we have seen construction of the critical long term care beds (Nursing Homes and Auxiliary Hospitals) frozen – and in fact many existing facilities face potential closure due to lack of maintenance.

That was exactly the reason given for the closure of the LTC facilities at Carmangay, Bashaw and Strathmore within the past five years.