FREIBURGER: Reader sees need for better caregivers

Reader says we are in the midst of a caregiving crisis in Alberta.
Reader says we are in the midst of a caregiving crisis in Alberta.Spinal News International

Erik Freiburger is a Calgary blogger ( He and his wife are quadriplegics following motor vehicle accidents in 1992 and 1994. They have been under Home Care’s care throughout most of their lives.

Let me start by saying my wife and I have some incredible caregivers who care for us greatly and are immeasurably skilled in knowledge and experience for looking after our health needs as quadriplegics here in the city of Calgary.

We simply could not survive in the community without them.

But, it seems as though this community of caregiving has been drastically shrinking the past several years and culturally changing, with fewer and fewer skilled workers. Poorly trained workers who seem to only care about receiving a paycheque rather than bringing dignity and care to those with disabilities.

Last June, Alberta Health Services announced the cancellation of their community caregiving contract with a local health firm and its renewal with a new company here in Calgary.

My wife and I have undergone the transition to their services at the end of January and it has been a complete nightmare.

For the first week of care they seemed to simply show up whenever they felt like it, without any regard to our schedule.

They still do, as just this morning the caregiver called at 9:40 a.m. to say they would be here at 10:00. Meanwhile, she’s not supposed to be here until noon.

We have called the company's office on several occasions to ask if someone was still coming. But, like so many times before, we can only leave phone messages and no one ever returns our calls.

Despite AHS’ promises that our services would not change and our requested regular caregivers would not be removed from our care, every single person that arrived was completely new — not just in our care personally but in any care, period.

To our shock, they had no understanding of what a Hoyer floor lift (allows a person to be lifted and transferred with a minimum of physical effort) was or how to safely operate it; including those in the office when we called for extra help.

In one such case, after struggling to put the sling on my wife for 15 minutes (even at first trying to put it on upside down), she stood there staring blankly at the pull-down bar on my gym apparatus — a piece of equipment entirely unrelated to the Hoyer floor lift.

I asked her, “What are you doing?” And in her broken English she replied, “I’m trying to figure out how to hook her up to this bar.”

She was trying to hook up my wife to a gym apparatus! I didn’t know whether to laugh or scream.

Such is the lack of professionalism we are experiencing on a daily basis. Like I said, a nightmare.

I am not naive either as to the struggles faced by local caregiving companies here in Calgary trying to find competent employees.

This past week an article in a local newspaper highlighted the fact that Calgary lost more than 20,000 health-care and social assistance workers this past year.

Ironically, Edmonton gained about the same number of health-care and social assistance workers. There was no indication as to whether it was transfer growth or not but it raises serious questions.

  1. What is Edmonton doing to recruit health-care workers that Calgary is not?

  2. What incentives does Calgary offer to health-care workers to foster longevity of employment?

  3. And how is Calgary vetting and training its local caregivers to give proper care in the community?

Of course, we brought our concerns to our AHS Coordinator. But the only alternative she could offer was a move into a private and profit-driven health-care system.

Under such care, AHS would cover a portion of the care, while the private agencies then bill the clients through Blue Cross billing.

Most of these agencies require a minimum of two to three hours per visit resulting in an imbalance of clients personal care needs.

In other words… over-billing. But like so many others in a budget conscious world, with our income-restricted life we simply cannot afford this.

According to Canadian Caregiving, “The cost of allowing Canada's caregiving systems to fail is the well-being and even the lives of care recipients, care providers and caregivers. Research has shown worsened symptoms and poorer outcomes in care recipients when their caregiver is in distress.”

All I can say is we need better caregivers in Calgary and something needs to change … and change fast before someone ends up hurt or worse.

I shudder to think if it already has.

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