Good management can fix health care

Last week, I asked Ed Stelmach to pledge, in writing, never to violate the spirit or the letter of the Canada Health Act. To date he hasn’t returned the written pledge I sent to him, so I can only assume he didn’t sign it.

Last week, I asked Ed Stelmach to pledge, in writing, never to violate the spirit or the letter of the Canada Health Act. To date he hasn’t returned the written pledge I sent to him, so I can only assume he didn’t sign it.

I also asked him in the house if he would sign; he wouldn’t answer.

All I want is a clear statement from the premier that he will protect the values and beliefs of Albertans and Canadians by following the Canada Health Act. In typical Ed fashion, all he’s offered so far is vague generalities and bafflegab.

It’s worth reviewing the five principles of the Canada Health Act: public administration, comprehensiveness, universality, portability and accessibility.

These are principles that have served Albertans well for a generation, principles that reflect the best in us, our province and our way of life. They are the Alberta way.

Now we stand at a crossroads. Our aging population and the rising cost of new medical technology have caused the health budget to rise … or at least that’s the message of Premier Stelmach and the Wildrose Alliance.

The real story is different.

My colleague Kevin Taft did some fascinating work on Alberta government budgets that challenges that assessment. In real terms, health-care expenditures have remained basically static over the years, when you take inflation and population growth into account.

Kevin’s work suggests that the real issue with health care is bad management.

The Stelmach administration’s handling of the H1N1 epidemic, the dismantling of the health boards, the Stephen Duckett fiasco and the emergency room overcrowding crisis bear this out.

Bad management gave us reorganization after reorganization, closed hospitals at a time of massive population growth and crippled ER rooms with fewer doctors and nurses.

Albertans value their health-care system, but the way the government has mismanaged it has frustrated health care professionals and made it impossible for the system to work.

Now along comes Danielle Smith and her Wildrose Alliance saying that we need to get on the privatization bandwagon. They offer a simple silver bullet that will fix everything. They know what will get the system back on track.

But here’s the thing about the Wildrose Alliance. They’re not a new party. They’re just disaffected Tories who don’t share the mainstream, moderate values that make public health care work.

Smith is softening her stance on health care because she knows that she can’t win at the polls if she comes out strongly in favour of privatization. But look at her track record.

On the record, she has stated that she supported the private Health Resource Centre (HRC) fiasco at the old Grace Hospital in Calgary — the same HRC that needed a government bailout. And she favours user fees not just for ambulance service, but for fire and police services, too.

Do you really want people with this kind of mindset managing public health care?

Fixing health care can’t be done with the magic bullet of a two-tier U.S.-style approach or the magic bullet of a larger health budget. What we need is new management.

Stelmach has promised Albertans the best health-care system in the world. Recently he took it down a notch, promising the best health-care system in Canada. I suppose his next promise will be to create the best health-care system in Alberta.

I’m tired of waiting for Ed to fulfil his promises. And I hope Albertans will see that Smith’s way isn’t the correct choice, either.

When private insurance companies get between you and your doctor, choices are taken out of your hands. All of a sudden, it’s the insurance company that decides whether or not you’ll get treatment.

That’s not the way we do things in Alberta. Our health-care professionals take pride in their work. Every year, their techniques and know-how improve. All they need is a government that won’t mess around with the principle of local delivery and decision-making.

I’ve already presented a plan to Albertans that will help us weather the immediate crisis in our emergency rooms. It’s called Pulling Through; you can find it on the policy section of our website,

And I’m working on the four-year plan that an Alberta Liberal administration would follow to undo the damage the Tories have done.

Fixing health care won’t be easy. We need to refocus on prevention and primary care; every Albertan should have a family doctor. We need to train thousands more health-care professionals, which means more investment in our universities and other post-secondary institutions.

Think of it this way: it’s a lot cheaper — and better for the patient! — when a family doctor catches a problem early. It’s the difference between seeing your doctor with a sore belly or being delivered to the ER with a bursting appendix.

I don’t think Albertans should be forced to choose between Tory incompetence and right-wing Wildrose Alliance ideology.

There’s a better way: sticking to the principles of the Canada Health Act, using state of the art management skills and remembering that when it comes to health care, we’re all in this together.

David Swann, a Calgary MLA and physician, is the leader of the Alberta Liberal Party.

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