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Even These Days in Alberta, ‘Motelgate’ Should Be Huge News

But so far not so much. Trump’s knack for normalizing the weird infects Premier Smith’s province.

David Climenhaga 21 Mar 2024Alberta Politics

David J. Climenhaga is an award-winning journalist, author, post-secondary teacher, poet and trade union communicator. He blogs at Follow him on X @djclimenhaga.

Danielle Smith is always the smartest person in any room she’s in, so back in August 2022 when she was running to lead the United Conservative Party, she didn’t need to hesitate even for a moment when she was asked about what to do if hospitals filled up again with COVID-19 patients.

“If the hospitals start to get overrun, what would you do?” asked the host of the online event, former MLA Bruce McAllister, one of the Wildrose members who crossed the floor of the legislature with Smith to join the Progressive Conservatives on Dec. 17, 2014 — a day that lived in infamy in Alberta until it didn’t, but long enough to get an NDP majority elected for a full term in office. Nowadays, McAllister is executive director of Smith’s office in Calgary’s McDougall Centre.

Smith didn’t even pause for breath before saying, “I can tell you exactly what I would do!”

To be fair, while the Zoom session was billed as a virtual town hall, it was clearly a campaign event ginned up to support Smith, so I suppose she knew in advance what the questions were going to be.

“The number one thing that I keep hearing is that we have a lot of capacity in acute-care beds, but we have long-term-care patients who are awaiting permanent placement in long-term-care homes that are actually in our acute-care beds in hospitals,” she chirped.

“And I have to figure, there’s gotta be a more comfortable place for them to go.

“I was thinking, maybe a hotel would be a better environment!

Fast-forward to last Friday.

The CBC’s Julia Wong reported how on March 4 a 62-year-old Edmonton man paralyzed on one side after a serious stroke was stuffed into a taxi at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton, where he had been housed for about six months since, and driven 56 kilometres south to a $47-a-night motel in Leduc.

“They told me I was going to a facility for long-term care,” Blair Canniff told Wong. Instead, he found himself in a motel room too small to accommodate his wheelchair.

After that, the story grows murky — although this is not the reporter’s fault. Alberta Health Services had nothing useful to say. It wouldn’t make a spokesperson available. It refused to answer Wong’s questions. It issued a short, printed statement that can fairly be described as intended to dodge and obfuscate, not to illuminate.

Different discharge options are considered…” Oh, please!

Mind you, AHS is in a state of terrified chaos thanks to the massive, expensive and counterproductive restructuring of its operations into four easy-to-privatize silos by Smith, who is so smart she doesn’t need the advice of anyone who knows anything about health care, and Health Minister Adriana LaGrange, the Mike Pence of Canadian politics.

The care provider named in the CBC story, identified as Contentment Social Services, didn’t return any of the reporter’s calls or emails.

The non-profit company’s website reads like it was assembled by an artificial intelligence program that didn’t receive very clear instructions. Its About Us section says nothing about them. And according to the Breakdown, the company does business out of a drop-in hot-desk operation in downtown Edmonton.

Apparently a couple of care workers of some description visited Canniff in his room from time to time, Wong reported. He was fed fast food.

A week later, another taxi came for Canniff and took him back to the Royal Alexandra, where he remains.

Albertans are entitled to ask, what the hell is going on?

Where — and how — did Alberta Health Services get the idea that a Travelodge motel in Leduc, of all places, where according to the desk clerk several rooms have been rented by some sort of care company, was an appropriate place to house a patient suffering the after-effects of a serious stroke?

What role did Premier Smith’s past advocacy of using hotels for continuing care play in this AHS decision?

Mark my words, there is a clear line that connects the dots between the words spoken by Smith at her campaign town hall on Aug. 12, 2022, and the arrival of Canniff at the Travelodge in Leduc, where he thought “it was sort of a joke.”

At her 2022 Zoom event, Smith said she’d been thinking about continuing care…

She’s been thinking about it, alright.

Indeed, as a former Fraser Institute intern, I wouldn’t be surprised if she’d been thinking about things like treating continuing care facilities as hotel-industry profit centres for a long time.

There was a time in Alberta when sending a stroke patient in a taxicab to a cheap motel room in Leduc rented by a sketchy sounding organization and calling the destination a continuing care facility would have sparked a provincewide scandal. If it happened more than once, it might even have gotten big enough to topple a government.

And it wasn’t that long ago — say, about 10 years.

As a matter of fact, it was 10 years ago that then-premier Alison Redford was finally driven out of office by a frightened Progressive Conservative caucus — MLAs terrified by what they were hearing from voters.

Sure, looking back now at spring 2014, many of Redford’s political sins seem petty, even quaint.

Mostly, they were spurred by a kind of clueless entitlement. Like that $45,000 trip to South Africa for Nelson Mandela’s funeral, booking and then cancelling seats on the government plane so the premier’s party could ride in privacy, hiring a law firm where her ex-husband worked for a huge contract and building a secret apartment for the premier atop a government building in Edmonton.

Many of them would have been defensible, if only the business had been conducted in public.

Even the notorious Sky Palace might have been a good investment — except maybe for the butler pantry — had it only been announced with a press release. But since then we’ve had four years of Donald Trump as president of the country next door to serve as a bad example to Canadian conservatives and just generally bring the tone down everywhere.

As a result, Jason Kenney, Danielle Smith and the United Conservative Party could do or say pretty well anything they liked.

Attacking the institutions of government, tearing down the health-care system, giving billion-and-a-half-dollar tips to corporations for pipelines that never get built, setting up government-owned private companies to attack the government’s enemies, badmouthing public health officials, denying COVID-19 is a thing and jetting off to Dubai for a conference they weren’t invited to attend? No problem.

We’ve been desensitized.

As long as they don’t say how much the trip to Dubai cost (what do you want to bet it was more than $45,000?) and keep saying bad things about vaccines, it’s all cool!

Stuff some poor guy in a taxicab to Leduc, thinking he’s going to a continuing care facility, and dump him at $47-a-night motel? Pfffft!

Health Minister Adriana LaGrange insists no rules were broken, and if any were, they were broken by Alberta Health Services. She says “proper procedures” were followed and blamed the patient for ending up at the motel.

Nothing to see here, folks. Please move along.

Seniors, Community and Social Services Minister Jason Nixon says his department never gave any money to Contentment Social Services, the company that was supposedly renting the motel room and sending people around now and then to drop off fast-food lunches.

It sure sounds like the government plans to try to ensure AHS ends up wearing it if this turns into “Motelgate.”

Social media posts indicate Contentment Social Services, which has a generically uninformative website and won’t return phone calls from reporters, was renting at least 10 rooms at the motel. Were they all occupied by folks receiving “continuing care” as well?

The company, which seems to have gotten its start in property management, does business out of a hot-desk office and mail drop in downtown Edmonton. The lights are on but no one’s home.

Then there’s also an entity called the Contentment Social Services Foundation — whose only listed officer has an ordinary sounding name belonging to someone who seems to have left no digital footprints at all on the internet.

Meanwhile, the UCP has been beavering away removing even the inadequate protections that exist for people in continuing care.

United Nurses of Alberta reminded Albertans this week that the Continuing Care Act passed in May 2022 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.

The previous legislation required continuing care 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. In 2023, the auditor general of Alberta said that was too low.

So the new act, which has not yet been proclaimed, and new regulations that are supposed to take effect on April Fool’s Day, require zero, nada, none at all. Hours of care are not even mentioned.

“This is clear, new evidence that the UCP plans to reduce the quality of care received by seniors and the accountability for that care,” said NDP Opposition Leader Rachel Notley.

Actually, the UCP will leave that to continuing care operators and say it has nothing to do with them. Indeed, they’re already doing just that.

This article is drawn from two recent posts by David Climenhaga on his site Alberta Politics. You can read them there.  [Tyee]

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