Let’s think about the makeup of small towns in Alberta. Think particularly about the centres not too far from Red Deer. What proportion of these towns is made up of retired area farmers?
What portion of the towns’ employment and business base is made up of retired people, plus their extended families back on the homestead? What portion of the life of a town is dependent upon the services that older people expect?
Long term, what’s more important to seniors in a community than having reliable health care nearby?
That’s why a politician with half a lick of sense could quite comfortably deny the contents of a leaked newsletter that says health authorities are even contemplating a move to downgrade 10 Central Alberta hospitals by eliminating their ability to provide emergency care.
Rimbey, Ponoka, Lacombe, Innisfail, Castor, Coronation, Consort, Sundre, Three Hills and Hanna hospitals downgraded to “urgent care” centres? Spell that “political suicide.”
That’s also why it’s so disturbing to read the response of one MLA in whose riding several of these towns happen to rest.
On Friday, Ray Prins started out well, condemning the Friends of Medicare for fear-mongering by making the leaked newsletter public.
“The Friends of Medicare want to make political points by putting fear into Central Alberta residents,” he said. “They’re talking about Rimbey, Ponoka and Lacombe. Those are my three towns with three large hospitals. Rimbey has a brand-new hospital. They spent over $20 million there. Lacombe is running at over 100 per cent capacity. And Ponoka is a very busy hospital.”
That’s exactly what worried town residents would want to hear from their MLA.
But Prins didn’t provide the finish — and that’s the disturbing part.
Here’s the part people want Prins to say, but he didn’t: It’s a ridiculous idea. Those closures would come over my dead body. I would fight this plan with every means at my disposal, and if the government persists, I would resign from caucus and sit as an independent.
That’s what thousands of seniors in his riding want to hear. They sold their farms, moved into town, expecting a reasonable level of health care of health care close at had — including emergency care, including surgery.
These people have voted Conservative since Peter Lougheed made Social Credit a footnote of history in this province. They are the reason the Tories win almost all of the seats in the legislature every election, with barely half the popular vote.
But obviously, half a lick of sense still resides in government.
By Friday afternoon, Red Deer MLAs Mary Anne Jablonski and Cal Dallas had sent a letter to the Advocate tossing the rumour into the junk pile.
There is a study, part of Vision 2020, they said, to look at all provincial hospitals, to see if some services are better done in other settings.
Read into that: we no longer deliver babies in Innisfail.
The CEO of the health superboard will make a tour of rural hospitals this summer, the letter said, and we’ll see what comes of that later.
But nothing will happen without consultation and notice, and that’s a quote from the health minister.
Every year, the government commissions studies. The researchers come back with reports, but these are not always made public.
An internal health region newsletter is a horse of a different colour. It’s not a sanctioned study. But it assumes policy directions based on information you and I will never have. It proposes solutions to problems passed down through the bureaucracy on direction from their political masters.
“Cut health care costs in your region,” comes the order. “Close the small, inefficient hospitals,” comes the answer.
Then, the political masters decide what is feasible. What did they decide? They shut down the health regions.
This idea should never have been leaked because politically it is dead, dead, dead. The people will monitor government for suicidal thoughts.
Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.