Minister should back up his words with actions to protect health care

A short time ago I read a response from the Alberta Health and Wellness Minister Ron Liepert, headlined Health care needs to be about the patient.

A short time ago I read a response from the Alberta Health and Wellness Minister Ron Liepert, headlined Health care needs to be about the patient.

As I read the content of this response, I could not correlate it with the actions being taking by the minister and his CEO, Dr. Stephen Duckett.

Essentially the content was, I believe, intended to allay the fears many Albertans have with all the changes taking place in the health-care system. However, this epistle does little to lessen my concern and, yes, my fear of what is happening to the public health system.

Why is he introducing the changes? He writes that it is “to ensure the patient, not the system, is the priority.”

If my memory serves me correctly, the health-care system only came into existence to serve the patient after Tommy Douglas was able to get the Canada Health Act passed by the federal government.

The system was developed around the patient to facilitate the access and delivery of health care. So for years the patient has been the priority and centre of the health-care system.

Compared to what is happening today, I would say the times are changing. Instead of funds going into the system to benefit the patient, millions and millions of dollars are going to executives in severance payouts, bonuses, gross salaries and retention bonuses.

Both Liepert and his CEO, Duckett, an economist, are making steep cuts into hospitals and services, which reduces the access and treatment for patients.

Duckett certainly has an incentive to make these cuts to reduce the deficit as he will receive half a million dollars in a bonus when the deficit is reduced to a certain level.

So when Liepert writes that “health care needs to be about the patient,” he should look at what is happening to the patients under his watch.

In his writing, Liepert tells us that contrary to what we may read (in the press), these changes will increase the availability of acute care beds. However he does not tell us how this will be achieved when 300-plus acute care beds for the physically and mentally ill are being closed with the likelihood of more closures in the future.

In fact, the number of beds in Alberta has fallen from 13,300 in 1989 to 6,800 in June 2009, while the population has increased by 700,000. In addition, no new nursing homes will be built, nor will the older facilities be refurbished; all promises in this regard have been dismissed.

The new nursing home in Red Deer, capacity 220 beds, built at a cost of millions of dollars and started well before Liepert began his changes, will give the city just two additional nursing home beds when the 218 residents are transferred from the two older facilities. As yet, no announcement has been made for the use of the soon to be empty nursing homes with a 218 bed capacity.

Liepert writes that the hospitals are changing their role to become centres for acute illness. Really, I thought they always were for the sick and injured.

If indeed the minister does not believe that they are for the care of acutely ill patients, what are they for? It is true that many long-term care seniors are holding beds in these hospitals, but whose fault is that?

Broken promises related to increasing long-term care beds means the seniors have no where to go. As for his plan for the system, Liepert writes that he simply wants “quality care” for all Albertans. However he did not clarify this statement as to his understanding of quality care, nor did he outline what his plan or steps were to achieve this goal.

There are so many ambiguities in the minister’s response that it raises many more questions. Perhaps the minister would consider having open public meetings to provide a forum for the productive open dialogue that he suggests is needed.

In closing his response, Liepert writes that he will always fiercely defend and protect our publicly funded health-care system. To this I would only say “Actions speak louder than words.”

Sonia Francis

Red Deer

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