Health

Alberta to rehome 39 people after covering $25K unpaid hotel bill for non-profit housing patients

Premier Danielle Smith says a non-profit that placed Albertans in hotel rooms after they were discharged from hospital put them in danger of eviction with a $25,000 unpaid hotel bill, and the government had to step in to pay.

Government staff are working to find appropriate facilities for 39 people — some who were living in apartments and seeking social supports — under the care of Contentment Social Services, the premier said Friday.

Smith said the organization is “not up to the task” of caring for vulnerable patients.

Jason Nixon, minister of seniors, community and social services, as well as ministry staff, were at one of the Leduc hotels where the non-profit has housed people, Smith said, and the outstanding bill was put on a credit card. 

“If the minister hadn’t been on site yesterday, and hadn’t intervened that way, I shudder to think what would have happened to those poor folks,” Smith said at an unrelated news conference in Calgary Friday.

WATCH | Alberta health officials questioned about hotel transfers: 

Alberta health officials questioned about hotel transfers as another family speaks out

Alberta Health Services is facing questions about vulnerable patients being transferred from hospital to hotel. Health Minister Adriana LaGrange says the province will review a list of social services agencies it uses to facilitate the moves.

CBC News reported last week that a man who spent about six months in hospital after a stroke was discharged and moved to a Travelodge in Leduc, just south of Edmonton. The program was run by Contentment Social Services.

Blair Canniff, 62, said he was told that he would be moving to a long-term care facility and was not given any other options. He has high care needs because he is paralyzed on his left side, and he said the hotel room wasn’t properly equipped for his accessibility needs.

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A second Edmonton family has subsequently told CBC News about their concerns in a similar case. Jenalee Green said her father Glen Green was discharged from hospital and moved to the same Leduc Travelodge, and then the Park Inn, after being referred to Contentment Social Services.

In an interview Thursday, Norton Smith, the organization’s president, defended the care being provided, and said putting clients in hotel rooms is a temporary measure.

He didn’t respond to requests for comment on Friday.

‘It shouldn’t have happened’

Health Minister Adriana LaGrange said this week that Contentment Social Services will be removed from the list of housing providers that health workers can present to hospital patients when they’re being discharged. It’s unclear how agencies end up on the list.

Health Minister Adriana LaGrange takes questions from the media. (CBC)

Both LaGrange and Nixon said this week they had no record of any contracts with the non-profit. 

The premier said the province is planning more changes, and looking into how Contentment Social Services was an option in the first place. She said her understanding is that the agency used to operate rental housing, but issues led the non-profit to move clients to hotel rooms.

“We have social workers at Alberta Health Services that will now co-ordinate more with seniors, community and social services … so when discharge happens, they can be discharged to a provider that we know we’ve had a look at,” she said.

Speaking to CBC News on Friday, Canniff said that’s a step forward.

“It shouldn’t have happened in the first place, but it did, so we can’t do anything about that in the past.”

A man with a beard sits in a wheelchair with his arm in a sling, with a woman with short hair sitting next to them, holding a smiling child between them.
Blair Canniff, left, and his partner Myna Manniapik, right, with their grandchildren. Canniff spent about six months in an Edmonton hospital after a stroke, and when he was discharged, he was taken to a hotel room that he says wasn’t equipped for his care needs. (Submitted by Jeela Manniapik)

During the week Canniff was in the hotel, his family worried about his mobility issues and his ability to care for himself, and said he had been given fast food to eat. 

Canniff’s partner, Myna Manniapik, said the family dealt with trauma trying to get the right care.

“I hope the government will come up with a better situation for everybody, especially the vulnerable, disabled and elderly.”

Questions about oversight

Jenalee Green said she’s happy to see action, and that her father will be moved.

“I hope now that this has been brought to light, that perhaps other agencies are monitored, and we’re making sure that we’re discharging patients from hospital to places that are able to care for them fully.”

A woman stands outside of a hotel, also pictured, in this collage photo.
Some patients discharged from hospital in Edmonton — like Jenalee Green’s father — have been sent to stay at the Park Inn in Leduc, Alta. (CBC)

Mount Royal University political scientist Lori Williams said the case raises serious questions about access to care, especially as the Alberta government moves forward with a sweeping overhaul of the provincial health authority.

“This isn’t an agency’s fault — this is the responsibility of the government,” Williams said.

“This should never have been attempted without clear and adequate oversight and supervision, and provision of care on an ongoing basis.”

Lori Sigurdson, the NDP Opposition critic for seniors issues, continuing care and home care, released a letter this week asking the Health Quality Council of Alberta to investigate.

She said a review is needed of “all related policies and procedures that have allowed such a clearly unacceptable situation … to occur in our public health-care system.”

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