New regulations eliminate all nursing care requirements for residents of continuing care homes in Alberta, UNA warns

New provincial continuing-care regulations set to come into effect on April 1 will result in there being no legal requirement to provide nursing care for residents living in Alberta continuing care facilities, United Nurses of Alberta warns.

The Continuing Care Act passed in May 2022 and not yet proclaimed into law eliminated language from previous legislation that identified a minimum number of hours of nursing care that had to be provided to patients in continuing care, UNA President Heather Smith explained.

Last month, the province published a new Continuing Care Regulation that is supposed to take effect on April 1 and also includes no mention of a minimum number of required hours of nursing care.

“So we are taking the care out of continuing care,” Heather Smith stated.

The previous legislation required continuing care home operators to provide 1.9 hours of nursing and personal care per day, of which 22 per cent had to be provided by a Registered Nurse or Registered Psychiatric Nurse.

While that was clearly inadequate, at least there was a minimum legal standard, Smith said. “The government now plans to completely eliminate requiring even that meagre level of care.”

A report by the MNP consulting firm commissioned by the Alberta Government in 2021 recommended increasing the number of hours of care people received every day, Smith said. “But the new regulations do exactly the opposite,” UNA's President warned.

“We are moving to zero hours of care. This is extremely dangerous.”

“We have already read in the news about a case of a stroke patient sent to recover alone in a motel in Leduc,” Smith observed. “I fear that the change in regulations means this is only a harbinger of things to come.”

By contrast, Smith noted, Ontario has just increased the requirement for care for each patient to four hours per day.

Smith said UNA is also concerned the new regulations allow broad exemptions to the watered-down rules governing continuing care facility operations without public transparency or meaningful oversight.

While the government clearly intends to significantly transform the province’s continuing care system, the new regulations are also confusing, and make reference to guidelines that have not been published anywhere. The three levels of continuing care established in the regulations published on February 24 also lack definitions in the current version of the document.

The report of Alberta’s Auditor General in February 2023 recommended implementing a system “to mitigate the risk that a facility is not providing residents with the number and type of care staff needed to ensure safe, quality resident care.”

Now, Smith said, the government appears to be trying to permit larger numbers of workers without health care qualifications, or only very limited and targeted training, to work in continuing care.

And where the size and nature of staffing requirements of the Continuing Care Act are mentioned in the regulations, she added, they can be exempted without any mechanism of appeal or oversight by a single appointed “director of continuing care.”

The new regulations will allow operators to apply for exemptions behind closed doors, without input from stakeholders such as families, workers or unions.

“Everything about the regulations suggests the government’s policy emphasis is to allow home operators to be exempted from following the rules, not ensuring the rules are obeyed,” she said.

There is also no requirement for names of continuing care operators who apply for exemptions to be published anywhere.