CALGARY -- Premier Jason Kenney, Health Minister Tyler Shandro and other officials outlined health-care spending in the recently announced provincial budget which they say will improve services for seniors and vulnerable Albertans.

Along with $1.25 billion in one-time COVID-19 funding, Kenney said 2021 budget includes more than $3.5 billion for continuing care programs, an increase of more than $200 million, or six per cent, over last year.

There is also $736 million allocated for home care, $1.6 billion for designated supportive living facilities, $1.2 billion for long-term care and more than $500 million in capital funding over three years for continuing care facilities.

"We are protecting the lives of vulnerable Albertans by increasing support for services that improve their safety, independence and quality of life," said Kenney.

"Alberta seniors built this province and we’re standing by them every step of the way through this pandemic and beyond.”   

Shandro called expanding capacity in continuing care "a top priority."

"This funding will help upgrade existing spaces while also creating new ones," he said.

"We will work with our community, non-profit and independent providers to accomplish this. Alberta seniors and persons with disabilities deserve safe, quality care in their communities, with their friends and families nearby.”

The Alberta Union of Public Employees issued a statement on Wednesday afternoon, saying the funding will "prop up a system that has failed."

“The COVID-19 pandemic has proved that our continuing-care system is broken and that residents and patients, mainly seniors, have paid the price with their lives,” said AUPE vice-president Mike Dempsey.

“Instead of fixing continuing care, the Alberta government has chosen to continue with exactly the same model that has led to so many pandemic deaths. It is abundantly clear that the private model of care does not work. It provides lower quality of care because it puts profits and expenses ahead of patient care. 

“Our current system encourages private operators to cuts costs, cut staff and to charge more for services. It has also created a system where operators refuse to hire staff full-time on fair wages, forcing workers to take multiple part-time jobs to make ends meet. This has been an important factor in fighting the pandemic.”

AUPE represents more than 90,000 workers, including about 58,000 in health care. 

AUPE is calling "all continuing care to be brought under the public health umbrella, so adequate standards can be maintained and Albertans can see where their money is being spent." 

“Front-line health-care workers do their best no matter who their employer is, but we have seen that they are better able to do their jobs, to care for vulnerable Albertans, within a public system,” said Dempsey.

“There is no reason why seniors and others in continuing care should be treated as second-class citizens in health care. Their care is essential and should be treated as such.”

Salimah Walji-Shivji, chair of the Alberta Continuing Care Association, said the number of seniors in Alberta is expected to double in the next decade.

“Over 13,000 Albertans in long-term care and designated supportive living settings receive quality care every day through the independent public, private, faith-based and not-for-profit owners and operators who comprise our association," she said.

"We are committed to furthering our partnership with the government to strengthen the capacity to help our residents requiring continuing care."