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Alberta

Province spending $36 million to free up hospital space for Covid patients

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More funding to increase health-care capacity

Up to $36 million in new funding will improve wages and create additional workforce capacity to allow more Albertans to receive care outside of hospitals and free up resources to treat COVID-19 patients during the fourth wave.

Improving home care and facility-based continuing care will mean more Albertans will get the care they need in their homes and communities. This will help reduce pressure on all parts of the health-care system, namely acute care, during a time when hospitalizations are increasing due to COVID-19.

More than 400 Albertans are currently waiting in hospitals to move into continuing care facilities, with many more waiting to return to their homes outside of facility-based care with the support of home care services.

“We know that home care agencies are experiencing staffing challenges. Increasing the pool of available staff will mean we can move additional patients from hospitals to their homes when it is safe to do so. This is a benefit to patients who would rather get the care they need in the comfort of their own homes. It also benefits hospitals as they manage the increasing number of patients who need beds because of COVID-19 complications.”

Tyler Shandro, Minister of Health

“Supporting home care agencies recruit and retain staff will enable more patients to receive high-quality care in their homes, improving capacity in our hospitals and allowing more patients to stay close to their loved ones.”

Dr. Verna Yiu, president and CEO, Alberta Health Services

Wage increases for health-care aides

Contracted home care agencies will receive $22 million over two years in additional funding to provide wage increases to their certified health-care aides. The additional funding will provide a pay increase of $2 an hour for the next 13 months for health-care aides working in home care agencies contracted with Alberta Health Services. The purpose of providing this increase in funding rates is to help retain current and recruit additional staff, which will allow more Albertans to be cared for in their own homes. There are currently hundreds of vacant health-care aide positions in the home care system.

Alberta Health Services is also increasing home care hours authorized for agencies; the funding increase will help the agencies meet these hours. This supports the shift to more care in the community, as recommended in the facility-based continuing care review.

Expanding the home care workforce

An additional $14 million is being provided to expand workforce capacity to support home care and continuing care facilities on a short-term basis until March 31, 2022. There is a need to be able to respond quickly to new health system pressures arising from COVID-19. Similar to the comfort care aide program that provided a staffing pool for continuing care facilities, this additional funding will support a variety of innovative approaches to mobilize existing or new staff to where they are most needed for short periods of time.

“The Alberta Continuing Care Association welcomes this additional funding to improve Alberta’s continuing care system as a whole. Our members provide care and services for over 13,000 individuals in long-term care and designated supportive living settings and over 5.2 million hours of home care to Albertans.”

Salimah Walji-Shivji, chair, Alberta Continuing Care Association

“Our caregivers provide exceptional client-focused home support services and go the extra mile to make our clients feel special, comfortable and safe. This additional funding will help to sustain the home care sector and our dedicated staff who deliver high-quality care to Albertans every day.”

Daren Farnel, area director, Bayshore Home Care Solutions

“We thank the Alberta government for their recognition and support of the ever-important work our home care health-care aides provide to keep our clients safe and well in their homes. This announcement is a positive step forward to developing a sustainable funding model to make home care a desirable career choice.”

Sylvie Beauchamp, vice-president, Alberta Home Health Services, CBI Health

Quick facts

  • A Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) study found that a growing number of seniors in Canada could have been supported in their homes through home care, helping to delay or avoid admission to continuing care residences.
  • There are more than 132,000 Albertans who receive home care services annually and nearly 28,000 Albertans residing in continuing care facilities.
  • The $22 million for the health-care aide wage increase will be provided over two years; $12 million in 2021-22 and $10 million in 2022-23.
  • The home care aide salary increase is for staff working in contracted home care agencies. This increase does not apply to Alberta Health Services or Covenant Health home care staff.

Alberta

Alberta government says jobs, economy, COVID to be focus of fall legislature sitting

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EDMONTON — The Alberta government plans a busy fall legislature sitting aimed at adding jobs and diversifying the economy while focusing on tamping down the renewed surge of COVID-19.

Government house leader Jason Nixon says this will include proposed legislation on recognizing professional credentials to address labour shortages. The bill will be introduced by Premier Jason Kenney.

“Our focus will be on Alberta’s workforce, a couple of bills around diversifying the economy, a big focus on building infrastructure for our future, (and) growing our resources, particularly on the energy side,” Nixon said in an interview Friday.

There will also be new initiatives on environmental protection and conservation.

Nixon said there will be 18 to 20 bills for the sitting, which begins Monday and is scheduled to run to the first week of December. 

“It’s a very robust fall agenda,” he said.

Nixon said the government will continue to take steps to reduce COVID-19 cases, which have severely stressed the health system.

No COVID-19-specific bills are planned, he said, noting they were passed in previous sittings. 

“There’s certainly other stuff to be done to manage the pandemic … but we’ll stand ready if Alberta Health needs us to pass any legislation to deal with the pandemic.”

He said debate in the chamber is expected to return to some semblance of normalcy.

In the spring sitting, both the United Conservative government and the Opposition NDP reduced their numbers in the chamber to prevent the spread of the virus. 

This time, with all NDP members and all but one on the UCP side vaccinated, all will be allowed back in for debate.

The lone UCP member has a medical exemption and will be tested regularly, said Nixon.

He said there are still masking rules and members will try to maintain distancing where possible.

The NDP said it plans to hold the government accountable for what went disastrously wrong on COVID-19.

“This fall sitting of the legislature will be laser-focused on getting answers from the UCP on why they’ve failed Albertans so miserably in managing the devastating fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Christina Gray, the NDP house leader.

“Since July 15, more than 85,000 additional Albertans have been infected with the virus and 700 have died.”

Gray said the NDP will call for an all-party inquiry into the government’s handling of the pandemic with the power to compel documents and testimony.

Nixon said the government will not agree to such a motion. He said it would be wrong to redeploy vital health resources right now and that Kenney has promised an eventual review of how the province handled the pandemic.

Kenney has also promised to bring forward a motion to ratify and act on the results of Monday’s provincewide referendum on Canada’s equalization program.

Final results aren’t in from Edmonton, but figures from Calgary and other cities suggest the referendum will pass with about 60 per cent in support of urging the federal government to remove the principle of equalization from the Constitution.

Kenney has said the issue is not about removing equalization, something no province can do unilaterally, but about getting leverage to negotiate other issues surrounding federal transfers to attain a better deal with Ottawa.

Political scientist Jared Wesley said Kenney will likely continue to focus on initiatives such as the equalization referendum, if only to change the narrative on his low popularity ratings.

“The premier will be spending most of his time, if he has anything to say about it, outside the province, stumping for this fair deal,” said Wesley, with the University of Alberta.

COVID-19 numbers have been trending down in recent weeks. But Kenney and Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer of health, say the situation remains precarious.

On Friday, there were just over 10,000 active COVID-19 cases in Alberta. And there were 191 COVID-19 patients in intensive care. 

Alberta’s fourth wave troubles began after Kenney lifted almost all COVID-19 related health restrictions as of July 1, boasting that the pandemic had moved to the “endemic” phase and there was no need to plan for a renewed case surge.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 22, 2021.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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Alberta

'You're looking at it:' Undercover officer says suspect led them to burial site

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CALGARY — A Calgary man who killed his girlfriend and is on trial for the murder of her young daughter took undercover officers in the middle of the night to a remote, snow-covered area where they were buried.

Robert Leeming, who is 36, has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the death of Jasmine Lovett and not guilty to second-degree murder in the death of 22-month-old Aliyah Sanderson. 

The mother and toddler were reported missing in April of 2019 after they didn’t show up for a family dinner.

Court heard this week that Leeming was befriended by two undercover officers, who told him they had retrieved a bag of evidence from a nosy neighbour. 

They offered to help him with his problems — including removing the bodies of Lovett and her daughter, who were in a shallow grave under a pile of mulch and branches in a day-use area west of Calgary.

One of the officers testified that Leeming knew exactly where the bodies were.

The officer said they went to the area in the early morning of May 6, 2019, and walked a short distance on foot.

“I said, ‘OK, where to?’ And (Leeming) goes, ‘You’re looking at it.’ And he points down. And underneath and against my left foot were branches and a pile,” said the officer.

“(Leeming) goes and he grabs a branch and lifts it up as if to prove what’s underneath all these branches. As he does that, I see a small bit of blue that I believe to be the moving blankets.”

Investigators previously testified that the mother and child were doused in gasoline and wrapped in blue blankets before they were covered in dirt, mulch and branches.

The trial also heard that Lovett had skull fractures and was shot in the head. Aliyah died of blunt force head trauma.

The officer said Leeming boasted about steps he had taken to hinder a possible police investigation — including hiding wads of raw bacon around his house to throw off cadaver dogs and filling the back of his car with mulch.

“Well, mulch is death, right? So it smells like death,” Leeming told the officers in a tape recording played in court.

“You cleaned that car up good?” asked the undercover officer. 

“Oh, yeah,” he replied.

The officer said Leeming also expressed relief that his 2014 Mercedes seized by police was an older model.

“It’s funny ’cause they were telling me the Mercedes, they pretty much can hook up to the computer in the car and know exactly where I’ve been,” Leeming said with a laugh. 

“It’s too old a car. If it was an ’18, then I’d be in jail.”

The prosecution was expected to wrap up its case Friday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 22, 2021.

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

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