Kenney’s rural health-care cuts are going to need bandages

Rural health care is under assault, and the culprit is your own government.

Jason Kenney gave a $4.7-billion handout to profitable corporations. Now, he’s forcing rural communities to pay for it by cutting deeply into the health care families rely on.

In the past few days, you have probably heard from family doctors about how Kenney tore up their contract and imposed a whole new payment system on them. This is creating chaos.

In late November, Dr. Christine Molnar of the Alberta Medical Association warned that the UCP government’s proposals “would be devastating to rural family practice.”

That was two months before the government walked away from negotiations. I read Molnar’s letter to Health Minister Tyler Shandro in the legislature, but he refused to listen to her warning.

Roughly 85 per cent of the UCP cuts to Alberta doctors are focused on family doctors. That means longer waits, shorter appointments, reduced hours and a cap on how many patients a family doctor can see in a day.

At the very least, this will lead to people leaving medical problems undetected or untreated until they’re forced into the emergency room; at the very worst, it could mean clinic closures, and physician departures.

What’s more, rural emergency rooms are another target of cuts to pay for Kenney’s $4.7-billion corporate handout.

In their review of Alberta Health Services, released Feb. 3, the UCP calls for “reclassification and consolidation” of rural emergency rooms.

This means a mix of reduced hours, a lower level of care, and even outright closure. On page 98 of the review, the UCP says 77 of Alberta’s 83 rural emergency departments meet the criteria for these changes.

Shandro has already accepted this recommendation, but we don’t yet know which communities will be affected. I urge you to contact your MLA and see if your local emergency room is one of the 77.

The review also describes 28 of Alberta’s rural labour and delivery units as “sub-optimal” because they deliver “only” about four babies a week, on average.

Closure and consolidation of these delivery units will mean mothers will be forced to travel away from their communities and away from their families to give birth.

This might be a long stay away from home for some mothers, or a frightening emergency ambulance ride for others. Both put a ton of unnecessary stress on moms and babies.

There’s bad news for seniors in Kenney’s health care cuts as well. You’ve probably heard about the 60,000 Albertans already thrown off of the seniors’ drug plan. That cruel decision will cut the health budget by about $36 million a year.

For comparison, the “war room” fiasco costs $30 million a year. Taking money away from Albertans struggling in pain with chronic conditions in exchange for some bad tweets is a terrible decision, and it tells us something about Jason Kenney’s values.

Kenney’s AHS review also calls for fewer nurses to staff long-term care beds. I don’t think anyone has ever visited their loved one in a seniors’ facility, looked around, and thought, “there are too many nurses here.”

Kenney’s plan is to take more than 2,300 nurses out of Alberta hospitals and long-term care facilities over the next three years. That’s a huge cut that will be felt across Alberta, but especially in rural and remote communities.

I’ve met many families who tell me one parent still can’t find work in the energy sector, but they’ve survived because the other parent is a nurse in the hospital.

I’m equally worried for the quality of care in these communities, and also for the local economy. In many towns, the hospital is the largest employer.

Piling all these cuts on top of each other leaves me extremely worried about whether people of all ages in rural Alberta will be able to get the medical help they need when they need it.

None of this cruelty and hardship will do anything to help our economy recover. It only pays for Kenney’s $4.7-billion corporate handout.

We know most of this money has already been given to corporate shareholders or used to create jobs in Newfoundland and Montana. Meanwhile, Alberta has lost 50,000 full-time jobs, and counting.

I strongly urge you to contact your MLA and ask why they aren’t speaking up to protect your local emergency room, your labour and delivery rooms, and your long-term care.

Ask them why they aren’t speaking up for family doctors, for nurses, for babies or for seniors. If you’re not satisfied with the answer you get, I encourage you to reach out to me. I promise that I will continue to speak up for health care in rural Alberta.

David Shepherd is the MLA for Edmonton-City Centre and the Alberta NDP Opposition critic for health.

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