Tory reassurances about health care far from convincing

The Central Alberta Council on Aging has grave concerns about recent government actions on health care in our area.

The Central Alberta Council on Aging has grave concerns about recent government actions on health care in our area.

The publication of a March 31 Alberta Health Services Medical Staff newsletter, outlining health facility closures and downgrades, has created another negative milestone in the Alberta government’s management of health care.

After the Progressive Conservatives first took power in 1971, the Heritage Trust Fund was used to build hospitals in many smaller communities in the province.

Communities have grown to depend on these facilities, which have over time been changed to meet the needs of the population surrounding them.

They have been supported by the communities with fundraising and volunteering. They have provided security for the elderly and ill, and a stable source of employment in the community.

It is no surprise that the Alberta Health Services newsletter, made public on May 14, has caused a wave of concern by Albertans.

The newsletter makes references to a capital master plan for the former David Thompson Health Region.

It says hospitals in Rimbey, Ponoka, Lacombe, Innisfail, Castor, Coronation, Consort, Sundre, Three Hills and Hanna would be turned into “urgent care centres.”

Long-term care facilities in Bentley, Trochu, and Breton will be exited (removed from DTHR funding by some means).

Following on the heels of financial efficiency audit reports, budget challenges and the closure of operating rooms, the complete re-organization of Alberta health care in our province has added to the concerns and has increased the anxiety of many Albertans.

The system is in administrative limbo. All current managers will be asked to reapply for their positions, and the announcement that 100 Alberta Health Services administrative employees will lose their positions adds to the uncertainty and loss of morale.

When asked in question period on May 14, Health Minister Ron Liepert – in a somewhat defensive tone – told members of the opposition that the list of hospitals and health centers set for closure or downsizing in a number of Central Alberta communities was an idea developed by the former David Thompson Health Board and that the idea was rejected by the Province’s new Alberta Health Services board.

When asked why the Alberta Health Services document was dated March 31, Liepert hesitated but said that people should not worry.

“There is nothing that I’m aware of relative to any change in status of any of the facilities around the province,” he said. “And if at some point in time there is, we have committed to any community that where there will be a change in the status of their facility, there would be prior engagement with that community.”

Premier Ed Stelmach did not add much to clarify the issue when he addressed the media.

He said the Health Services Board will tour rural Alberta this summer and consider changes to how medical care is delivered.

His large majority in the legislature and the unco-operative manner of the health minister has made receiving adequate answers to questions in the legislature very difficult.

Concerned Albertans must insist their MLAs act in caucus to ensure their health care needs are met.

The larger urban centres are not immune to the outfall of reduced rural health, as the overflow will surely impact the already stressed resources of the cities.

The government owes affected areas a clear explanation as to what is happening, and we the citizens must make our MLAs accountable.

Remember, the Third Way was defeated by aroused citizens demanding MLA action in caucus. It can be done again.

Sam Denhaan,

President

Central Alberta

Council on Aging

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