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Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw, seen here on March 20, 2020, said Alberta is trying to tackle the growing waiting list by placing people in facilities that may not be their first choice.

JASON FRANSON/The Canadian Press

The wait for Albertans living in their communities but seeking a spot in a continuing-care facility increased by a month during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, foreshadowing greater backlogs as the crisis intensifies in these institutions.

Alberta Health Services said it is too soon to gauge the full impact of COVID-19 on the continuing-care queue, but data from between April and September showed waiting times expanded dramatically. As the pandemic escalates across Alberta, long-term care homes and designated supportive-living facilities have had to shut down more than 500 beds because of COVID-19 outbreaks in mid-November.

The growing delay for access to long-term care and designated supportive living threatens to harm the well-being of prospective residents, who tend to be seniors unable to fully care for themselves, and clogs up other parts of the health system. Alberta, in an effort to ease the backlog, is placing some people on the waiting list in care facilities outside their home communities, which can be hard on patients and their families.

Story continues below advertisement

People living in their communities had to wait an average of 79 days to be admitted into a long-term care home or designated supportive-living operation as of the end of September, up from 49 days in April, AHS said. This marks a 61-per-cent increase in waiting time, even though the number of people in this queue dropped to 1,074 at the end of September from 1,125 in April.

wait times in Alta. for long-term care

and Designated Supportive Living

Long-term care homes and designated supportive

living facilities have shuttered hundreds of beds in

an effort to control COVID-19 outbreaks. In turn, the

waiting time for spots at these facilities is growing.

Sept. 30, 2020

April 2020

Admission from acute care hospitals

Number of people waiting

438

510

Average wait time (days)

30

36

Admission from the community

Number of people waiting

1,125

1,074

Average wait time (days)

49

79

JOHN SOPINSKI/THE GLOBE AND MAIL,

SOURCE: alberta health services

wait times in Alberta for long-term care

and Designated Supportive Living

Long-term care homes and designated supportive living

facilities have shuttered hundreds of beds in an effort to

control COVID-19 outbreaks. In turn, the waiting time for

spots at these facilities is growing.

Sept. 30, 2020

April 2020

Admission from acute care hospitals

Number of people waiting

438

510

Average wait time (days)

30

36

Admission from the community

Number of people waiting

1,125

1,074

Average wait time (days)

49

79

JOHN SOPINSKI/THE GLOBE AND MAIL,

SOURCE: alberta health services

wait times in Alberta for long-term care

and Designated Supportive Living

Long-term care homes and designated supportive living facilities have shuttered hundreds

of beds in an effort to control COVID-19 outbreaks. In turn, the waiting time for spots

at these facilities is growing.

April 2020

Sept. 30, 2020

Admission from acute care hospitals

Number of people waiting

438

510

Average wait time (days)

30

36

Admission from the community

Number of people waiting

1,125

1,074

Average wait time (days)

49

79

JOHN SOPINSKI/THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: alberta health services

“That’s a significant amount of time for somebody who is older and vulnerable,” said Dawn Mackey, a professor who specializes in long-term care at Simon Fraser University. “That extra month is actually pretty significant.”

This adds pressure on family members caring for elderly loved ones, Dr. Mackey said, noting daughters tend to be the ones shouldering most of the load. The pandemic, she predicted, will fuel demand for home care in the coming years. But that may not be an option for some people waiting for care.

Alberta also counted 510 people in hospital who were waiting for admission to a long-term care home or designated supportive living facility at the end of September, compared with 438 in April. People in the hospital category, as opposed to the community group, waited an average of 36 days for a continuing care spot, up from 30 days in April, AHS said.

Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, on Wednesday said Alberta is trying to tackle the growing waiting list by placing people in facilities that may not be their first choice.

“Unfortunately, we are in extraordinary times,” she said, noting it is inappropriate to move someone into an institution that has an outbreak of COVID-19 because they could be exposed to the virus that has proven especially deadly for elderly citizens. However, while placing people in facilities not of their choosing grants them access to care during the pandemic, it may mean living further away from their support network, Dr. Hinshaw noted.

“There are trade-offs.”

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There are 355 facilities that offer long-term care and designated supportive living beds in Alberta, according to AHS’s 2019-2020 annual report. There are active outbreaks of COVID-19 at 76 of these as of Friday the latest day for which data is available.

Alberta placed 8,521 people into continuing care last year. The network includes 15,665 long-term care beds, 11,853 designated supportive-living beds, and 256 community palliative and hospice spaces, according to the annual report. People waited an average of 35 days to be placed in long-term care and 80 days for a supportive-living spot in 2019-2020, the report said.

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