Health Politics

Save St. Mike’s Health Centre

A friend of mine has written a heart breaking story about his father developing Alzheimer’s. The really brutal part of the story is the sinister agenda being played out by the government. As I’ve said before, the Alberta Health Super Board is bad for Albertans and needs to be stopped.

Here is his story:

A few nights ago, I discovered my 75-year-old father trying to eat his soup with a knife.

My father — a minister for over 40 years — has Alzheimer’s dementia. The bible he once knew by heart he now struggles with like a child with his first book. He can no longer write letters of prayer and encouragements. His powers of speech are decimated, yet even so, by tangents, fumbles and gestures, he tells us every day that he wants to minister and live.

My father cannot minister again, because Alzheimer’s is killing the reasoning powers and memories he needs to live without constant care. He is sometimes delusional or will turn on his caregivers. He escapes and sometimes wanders into traffic, climbs into a stranger’s vehicle, or falls asleep in a snowbank. He can’t bathe, feed or clothe himself without help. Lately, he has struggled to swallow — a frightening portent of the end. It has only been with constant attention, minute-to-minute care by my family that our father has survived thus far.

Recently, I brought my sick father and exhausted mother to live in my Lethbridge home, which is kitty corner from St. Michael’s Health Centre. Three weeks ago, a kind staff member of St. Michael’s gave me a tour of their locked dementia unit. It was perfect: beautiful facilities, friendly, qualified staff, 24-hour nursing care, secured outdoor gardens, a greenhouse, and even a chapel. My guide also showed me an empty bed.

With the right kind of help literally within sight, I immediately called the Chinook ACCESS number to begin the process of eventually getting dad into a long-term care facility, with St. Michael’s as our primary choice. The agent, however, replied that St. Michael’s cannot be our primary choice because for the last month there has been a directive to stop all referrals to St. Michael’s. She said the government is shutting down the long term care facilities at St. Michael’s as part of a transition of senior care to designated assisted living facilities.

I immediately called an administrator of St. Michael’s to ask why they would give me a tour of the locked dementia unit for my father, if there is already a moratorium on new placements to the facility. The administrator said St. Michael’s had not been informed of the moratorium, but she indicated she was not surprised, “with the way things have been going.”

I have since heard many reasons for this “re-purposing” of St. Michael’s: that assisted living facilities fall outside of the Nursing Act, and therefore, seniors would have to pay for extra nursing services; that the Super Board is shifting nurses from senior care to be able to say there is no nursing shortage in Alberta; that St. Michael’s is slated to become new private hospital in Lethbridge. When things are done so secretly, who can know what, why, or where this is going?

In the next few years, the Alberta government means to cut 7,000 long term beds necessary for dementia patients like my father across the province, as part of the Chinook Model for senior care, for which Lethbridge is the guinea pig. Meanwhile, I have found many reports warning of a looming epidemic of Alzheimer’s, with the most conservative estimates predicting rates to triple in the population in the next two decades ( The Rising Tide). The government is going one direction while the future is going the other.

This week after a disturbing incident, my father was certified and admitted to the hospital’s geriatric assessment unit where he will be treated and observed for 30 days while his placement options are considered. The wonderful nurses in the unit have already noted that dad cannot do the simplest things to care for himself; they, too, have seen him trying to eat his soup with a knife.

I will not allow my father — who has given his whole life to others — go some place where he will have no right to the 24-hour nursing care or protection he needs to survive, where he would certainly die before his time. I have 30 days to show Albertans what their government is doing to their parents and grandparents — that like my father’s dying brain, the Alberta Government is myopically choosing a knife where other tools are necessary.

Please help us remove the knife and keep St. Michael’s and the province’s other 7,000 long term care beds open. We have 30 days.


Virgil Grandfield

Brian Mason will be in Lethbridge on Monday speaking about this health care issue (pdf) at the Public Library from 7:00-9:00pm.