Get to the root of health savings

Dr. Stephen Duckett paused his invasive surgery of Alberta Health Services by recently inviting employees to pitch in their ideas to help cut costs and maybe win a prize — paid for by him. This would be laudable if it were not so insulting and laughable.

Dr. Stephen Duckett paused his invasive surgery of Alberta Health Services by recently inviting employees to pitch in their ideas to help cut costs and maybe win a prize — paid for by him. This would be laudable if it were not so insulting and laughable.

First of all, if successful, the winner will simply further enrich Duckett, who gets a bonus for cutting costs, while the worker bee gets a paltry prize in a cheesy contest.

Secondly, the time frame is ridiculous. The draw is set for early December. Surely no thoughtful cost reduction recommendations can come out of that kind of a quickie brainstorm.

Thirdly, how will ideas be evaluated?

In context, health services are a huge ecosystem interacting with other ecosystems. They all revolve around life and death issues for patients and livelihood issues for staff.

If the objective is to gain exponential and beneficial recommendations for change, then it is clear that employees must be engaged in a long-term safe process wherein their jobs are not the first thing at risk with each recommendation, and that there is no mentality of “cost destination,” but rather an “efficiency journey.”

By this I mean suppose a janitor comes up with a new idea for dispensing toilet paper that will mean thousands of dollars of saving per facility?

Is this a better cost saving idea than an operating room tech who comes up with an idea of managing post-operative sterility of wounds, which may lead to the saving of many lives and reduced readmission costs — but which may temporarily increase the cost or time (or both) of a procedure?

One could apply the so-called “latte principle” so popular with personal savings.

This refers to becoming aware of incremental, unnecessary expenditures that could add up to monumental savings — if not spent (i.e. the Tim’s double double you buy each morning might be better invested in a tax-free savings account where your money will double double instead).

The only problem is that to generate suggestions, the staff need to feel engaged, respected, committed and job-safe.

So far, the good doctor has done none of that.

Health care is such a complex domain.

Without AUPE, the professional staff, suppliers and the public on board, patient care will decline in proportion to staff morale.

While we tell ourselves we have a billion-dollar deficit in health care, perhaps half a billion dollars of that is due to repairing people who have been in traffic collisions!

If so, then fixing health care isn’t the problem; reducing speeds and improving driver safety — particularly encouraging drunks to crash on the couch instead of the road is the solution.

Believe it.

I recall when my late mother broke her upper arm near the shoulder around Christmas a few years ago.

She was admitted to Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre and put on an immediate fast, slated for surgery the next morning.

That night a few busted up Albertans arrived from Hwy 2 by ambulance. Her surgery was bumped, again and again, as each day more traffic victims arrived over the course of a week.

By the time they got my Mom’s bone set, the weakened healing process in her old bones had run out of jam.

A few weeks later, the pin fell out of her arm and she was back in again for more surgery and another delay as more road kill had to be reincarnated.

What should have been a one-time-only $10,000 bone surgery for her had to be done twice ($20,000), plus a $10,000 week in hospital with Mom tying up a bed and other slated surgeries rescheduled.

Add on about $1 million worth of surgery for all those traffic collision victims that week, plus their long-term care, recoupment and rehabilitation . . . well, no wonder we’re over budget in health care!

If we see it from this perspective, obviously staff cuts, hiring freezes and such will never address the unpredictable volume of traffic collision users of health services who need extensive, intensive and very expensive emergency care to save their lives and restore their bodies.

We need to reduce traffic collisions in order to reduce health-care costs.

We need to address addictions — to stop the drunk or stoned from driving.

And, of course, in-hospital there are undoubtedly dozens of incremental savings that the staff could come up with, if they had a feeling that suggestions would be received with respect.

But Duckett’s contest prize offering completely disregards the need and the opportunity for long-term meaningful engagement of the brains and experience of Alberta Health Services staff.

It also fails to address the true source of the drain on health resources.

Michelle Stirling-Anosh is a Ponoka freelance columnist.

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