Health council seems pointless

I was interested to read in Friday’s Advocate that the David Thompson Health Advisory Council is reaching out to the public instead of waiting for people to come to them.

I was interested to read in Friday’s Advocate that the David Thompson Health Advisory Council is reaching out to the public instead of waiting for people to come to them. If they have had little contact from the public, perhaps it is because they are hard to find and virtually unknown. Chairman Diana Rowe says that citizens can simply call the council members, but who are they?

Looking for more information, I went to the Alberta Health Services website given in the news article and followed the links to Health Advisory Councils. I could find no list of members of the David Thompson council, but there was an indication that minutes of the council’s previous meetings were available online.

I found the minutes for the January, March, April and June meetings (but not for the remaining three meetings) and I was able to compile a list of 14 people who were members of the advisory council in January of 2010, three of whom resigned early in the year. But there was no contact information for any of them, so it would have been difficult to contact any of them.

However, a reading of these same minutes suggests that lack of visibility and accessibility may not be the council’s only problem. It’s not just a problem of how to find the council and its members, but also why would you want to? Let me give a couple of illustrations.

The minutes of the April meeting the show that a letter had been received from the Safe Harbour Society asking the council to advocate for funding for the society. Discussion of the request didn’t take place until the June meeting — a delay of two months — and then “members agreed that this was outside their mandate as an advisory body.” Whatever the council might think about the Safe Harbour request, they didn’t see it as their job to advocate on the society’s behalf.

Also at the June meeting a letter was considered from the Council on Aging “requesting that they be considered in engagement opportunities that lie within their area of interest.” Chairman Rowe was instructed to send them a reply “indicating that they are welcome to complete a Request to Present and Agenda Items form.” This is a one-page form that provides four lines in which to provide “a short summary of the subject,” four lines to identify “issues related to the subject,” and another four lines in which to indicate “support and/or action requested of the council.”

In discussion about how to deal with requests to appear before the advisory council, it was suggested that the council “ask the presenters to submit a summary, or a briefing note, for members to read prior to the presentation,” “that the summary provided be the main source of information and that the presentation be scheduled for five to 10 minutes only.”

So think about it. If you had serious concerns about health care, as the Council on Aging has about long-term care, why would you bother making a presentation to the health advisory council whose members want you to express your concerns in 12 lines of a one-page form plus a short summary statement or briefing note, and who are prepared to spend only five to 10 minutes hearing your presentation, who don’t see it as their job to advocate for changes you might ask for even if they agreed with you, and who make no decisions at all regarding the provision of health care in the region anyway?

You could be excused, I think, for believing that there must be a better way to get your concerns before the superboard that makes the decisions about health care and the government that is ultimately responsible for the health-care system.

Don Hepburn

Red Deer

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