Statement on Covid Response Report
The Alberta Party has fully reviewed the KPMG report on the first phases of the Covid-19 response released last Friday. This is a matter of vital importance to our province. This is a time for collaborative and constructive criticism, not partisan sniping.
The report highlights the need to act on increasing staffing in health-care, cutting red tape to make it easier for businesses to access supports, and working collaboratively with communities to ensure health guidelines are effective.
Government must act on the lessons learned in this report, but that is not the end. As more research is done, more recommendations to create a more resilient Alberta will be found.
The Alberta Party was pleased to see that the UCP Government released the KPGM report “Review of Alberta's Covid-19 Pandemic Response: March 1 to October 12, 2020.” The review made some key recommendations that included increasing the capacity of the health-care labour force and flexibility for backfilling staffing shortages in Alberta's continuing-care system, implementing strategies to increase uptake of business supports, and working closely with communities to make provincial health rules more effective.
The tragic way that Covid-19 impacted continuing care and seniors needs further study, and more solutions. The Continuing Care sector serves a vulnerable population – seniors and persons with chronic health issues and/or disabilities – who are at a greater risk of more severe cases of Covid-19 and more severe outcomes. This sector was significantly impacted during the Covid-19 pandemic. Covid-19 outbreaks in the Continuing Care sector put strong pressures on staffing, due to isolation requirements and absenteeism.
Continuing Care operators reported to the government that there are staffing decreases between 20 and 50 percent in the first 24 hours after an outbreak. The UCP government recognized this early in their Covid-19 Pandemic Response and implemented the provincial single-site worker policy for Continuing Care that was important in managing rates of COVID-19 infections.
The Alberta Party agreed with the purpose of this policy but would have made some changes to it. First, the roll-out and implementation was announced on April 10, 2020. However, the effective date of the policy in Alberta was delayed from April 23, 2020 to May 8, 2020, with full implementation on May 23, 2020. This should have been done quicker. To assist with this policy, the government also provided a $2 per hour wage top-up for healthcare aides within Long-term Care and Designated Supportive Living. Unfortunately, this salary top-up was not available to all operators and positions across the system. Operators that were not contracted by AHS were ineligible for the top-up along with other non-health care aide positions within those facilities. In addition, this exclusion did nothing to assist with supporting health-care worker capacity and flexibility in order to address workforce needs (backfill staff shortages and the mental health and wellness of the workforce). The Alberta Party would have ensured that this wage top-up would have been made available to all positions within those facilities. The Alberta Party also agrees with the KPMG recommendation that the government continue to demonstrate adaptability in addressing workforce needs.
Stephanie Shostak, Shadow Minister for Health:
“This report is an important step forward. We know that public health measures, such as self-isolation or quarantining, physical distancing, stay-at-home orders, and bans on large gatherings, were critical to reduce transmission of Covid-19, but that there were many trade-offs that had to be considered. The restrictions impacted on the mental health and well-being of Albertans in ways that include, but are not limited to, increased psychological distress, anxiety, and depressive symptoms. These issues may need more research to reveal their full impact, of the downstream impacts to our health system.”
This report is by no means the end of the story. Politics aside, the Alberta Party is happy this report has been released, but calls for further transparent, fulsome investigations be undertaken to understand the full impact of Covid-19 and the lessons learned from a trying time.