EDMONTON - Alberta NDP Leader Brian Mason says budget cuts to long-term care in Alberta are starting to hit home and are hurting the most vulnerable.

Mason says leaked documents from three nursing homes show they are eliminating vacant positions and planning layoffs to deal with a three per cent cut instituted by Premier Ed Stelmach's government last fall.

"We're going backwards, and people who are in long-term care facilities who need help toileting, getting meals (and) getting baths are going to suffer as a result of these reductions," Mason told a news conference at the legislature Monday.

"What we're asking the government to do is to give a full public accounting across the system of how these cuts to long-term care funding are affecting patient care.

"And of course we want them to restore that funding as soon as possible."

Mason noted that the problem is only going to get worse given that the waiting list for long-term care has reached about 1,700 — a three-fold increase in recent years.

"The premier promised 600 new beds during the (2008) election and we've actually seen a significant reduction," he said. "Not only are there less beds, but the quality of care is declining because the government has been reducing funding to these facilities."

However, Karen Gayman, vice president of seniors health programs for Alberta Health Services, said the cut has to be put in context, given there had been a six per cent boost in spending in the preceding months.

And she disputed Mason's claim that front-line care was being compromised, saying the savings are being found in other areas.

"In terms of operational efficiencies they can be found without impacting direct care, through management efficiencies, procurement and supply management," said Gayman, in an interview from High Level, Alta.

Long-term care has been a hot topic in the province.

Earlier this month, the NDP revealed that government estimates on long-term care beds didn't square with the numbers being reported by staff on the front lines.

Mason noted that at 90 publicly run facilities the NDP contacted, staff reported 4,664 beds, which is 371 fewer than the total announced by the province.

There are 14,582 long-term care beds across the province. About two-thirds are run by private operators or not-for-profit groups.

Mason has said the cuts are part of a plan by Stelmach's government to off-load costs onto families and patients by reducing long-term facilities in favour of assisted living and community care options.

He pointed to a Seniors Department planning document leaked last December that discussed reducing the percentage of long-term care beds to 20 per cent from 40 per cent of all beds available.

The government has said the planning document was for discussion only and had not been adopted by government. Stelmach, however, has said that the goal is to get seniors into more home-like care settings and away from institutions.