Will we lose patience waiting for better care?

I’ll be the first to admit I don’t have a lot of personal experience with Alberta’s health care system; for as unhealthy a lifestyle as I lead, I don’t get sick. My last hospital visit resulted from an inexplicable slip while outside checking the roast on my barbecue. My right leg was broken in three places below the knee and I found myself in the University of Alberta Hospital celebrating the advent of Y2K high on morphine.

I spent an extra-long weekend in hospital; my wife spent less time in the hospital giving birth to our son 12 years earlier. We might disagree on which experience was more painful. I attributed the few hospital service annoyances (perhaps naively) to holiday/long weekend staffing issues rather than inherent shortcomings in the system.

I first went to the hospital in Wetaskiwin because that’s where my family doctor practices; they X-rayed me and immediately sent me by ambulance to the U of A where I was stacked up in the ER on my gurney. From when I broke my leg at home until I was wheeled into my four-man suite was about six hours, well below the government’s new target of eight hours from triage to bed placement for patients who need hospital admission.

When I was released after parts of four days, I received follow up home care as needed for six weeks or so. It certainly made more sense to have me recuperating at home as soon as possible than taking up valuable space in the hospital. I was taught how to change my own dressings and jab myself daily with anti-clotting medication. When it came time to remove my stitches, the nurse pulled them out and I anesthetized myself — with a few CCs of single malt Scotch.

If we insist on leading unhealthy lifestyles and if the government continues to turn a blind eye to workplace injuries, Alberta will continue to provide health care services that don’t meet expectations. Clearly, education and an emphasis on convincing Albertans to live healthier lives would have a more sustainable effect on the system than emptying the treasury.

But that’s what we’re going to do — again.

Last week the Progressive Conservative government unveiled its five-year health plan to provide better and quicker care. The government promises to add 360 hospital beds and 2,300 continuing care spaces while performing an additional 3,000 surgeries by March 2012. (Coincidentally when the next election must be called.) Within three more years, another 3,000 continuing care spaces would be added and two new radiation therapy centres would be built, one in Red Deer, the other in Grande Prairie. Why it took so long for the government to develop this simple plan after watching the health care system fall apart over the last 25 years is a question to ask our MLA.

We are still suffering the fallout from Ralph Klein’s government not recognizing that the province was in a boom economy and not dealing with the consequences. Immigrants from inside and outside Canada were flocking to Alberta but it took years before the government realized it needed more schools, hospitals, courts, roads and infrastructure to meet the growing demand.

It’s a little simplistic to say more continuing care options at the end of the health care system would relieve the pressure in emergency rooms but chronic or palliative patients would be better served in longterm care centres; acute care and emergency patients in hospitals not in tents. Patients who feel sick need to see a doctor first — in an office or walk-in clinic, not in an emergency room.

Health and Wellness Minister Gene Zwozdesky promises his health care action plan guarantees a publicly funded health care system that will provide better access, shorter waits, safe, quality care and a healthier Alberta. The minister wants nine in 10 seriously ill patients to be treated or admitted to hospital in less than eight hours. Today, just three in 10 patients meet that goal at Alberta’s busiest emergency rooms.

Government MLAs wisely defeated an opposition amendment to the Alberta Health Act that would have enshrined in law emergency wait room times. Can you imagine the mess unscrupulous litigious patients would have made, walking into the ER with a stopwatch?

It’s obvious that health care is political and it’s the politicians who have messed it up, not the frontline doctors and nurses. MLAs are competing with each other to get hospitals and seniors lodges built and expanded in their constituencies so sometimes health care decisions are made for political purposes, not necessarily for the betterment of the provincial system. A long-term political and medical vision is needed to improve the delivery of health care services but the time needed to implement that vision isn’t necessarily coterminus with the election cycle.

For a time Alberta was divided into 17 health care regions: I lived in Capital, worked in Westview, and my family doctor had privileges in David Thompson. While there might be a loss of local decision-making in community hospitals today, it must be simpler for doctors and patients work deal within one bureaucracy.

But if the government was right to create the Alberta Health Services superboard to manage the delivery of health care, it was just as right to step in when former CEO Stephen Duckett went off the rails a few weeks ago. Ultimately, elected officials must be responsible. No one would have protested on Duckett’s front lawn like they did at the Alberta Legislature on the weekend.

Alberta’s voter-patients have proven to be an impatient lot and it remains to be seen whether we will give the government’s five year plan a chance or whether our patience will run out with Premier Ed Stelmach’s mandate in 2012.

Just Posted

William (Bill) Harris of Ponoka County reported missing

Rimbey RCMP seek public assistance in locating missing male

Rimbey Business Awards Banquet Oct. 18

Rimbey & District Chamber of Commerce present annual awards

Ponoka County fire crews handle second baler fire in 12 hours

Fire crews handled a baler fire just west of Gull Lake

WCPS uses cannabis legislation to fully review drug, alcohol and tobacco policies

Cannabis is not permitted in schools; WCPS focused on providing education and support

Puff, puff, pass: Cannabis is officially legal across Canada

Alberta readies itself for cannabis sales with 17 stores (for now) and a new provincial website

Canada Post strikes leaves small shops in the lurch as holidays approach: CFIB

Rotating strikes began in Victoria, Edmonton, Halifax and Windsor

China opens mega-bridge linking Hong Kong to mainland

The $20 billion bridge took almost a decade to build while incurring major delays and cost overruns

Dangerous Cat 4 Hurricane Willa closing in on Mexico coast

Officials said 7,000 to 8,000 people were being evacuated from low-lying areas, mostly in Sinaloa state

Excessive speed named as cause of Taiwan train derailment

18 people were killed and at least 170 more were injured

Election watchdog seeks digitally savvy specialists to zero in on threats

Move follows troublesome evidence of online Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election

Crown says man guilty of B.C. girl’s 1978 murder based on alleged confession

Jury hears details of girl’s 1978 murder while Crown says man should be convicted of girl’s murder based on alleged confession.

CFL playoff picture still muddled heading into weekend action

League revealed last week no fewer than 64 potential playoff permutations

Most Read