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Liepert fails to deliver details on plans

Health Minister Ron Liepert’s recent fireside chat-style letter — published in the Advocate — was possibly intended to make us all feel warm and bubbly inside.

Health Minister Ron Liepert’s recent fireside chat-style letter — published in the Advocate — was possibly intended to make us all feel warm and bubbly inside. Imagine that after years of public health care in Canada, Alberta is about to innovate and make the patient the focus of care!

Can it be that we have been fooled all these years and have not been receiving care?

When I look at the Alberta government website, I see that “Expense by Ministry” indicates Health and Wellness at 35.6 per cent and Expense by Function at 36.2 per cent and Social Services at 10 per cent.

I connect these two items because much of the talk of change, in Liepert’s letter, is about shifting service to community. Yet the community is where most people requiring social services are already struggling to survive; many of those people are significant consumers of health services.

The main problem I have with Liepert’s letter and the methods of Alberta Health Services to date is the lack of transparency and lack of clear, fair presentation about changes to citizens and health-care staff.

Liepert’s letter seems to express surprise that citizens or professional medical staff feel outraged to hear about dramatic changes through the media or through surprise announcements (i.e. closing helipads) that are then rescinded.

I feel I am being toyed with. Do you?

If I were in government, and were looking at the pie charts mentioned above, it would make sense to me to open up the system and allow private providers of some kinds of medical services — such as MRIs, etc., because then those operations would also become taxpaying businesses. They would employ more people, diversify the industry base, and possibly create new clusters of medical research and development.

This approach would then offset the significant health tax burden, one that will only grow exponentially as boomers age, and may create a more vibrant economy.

Just as countries like Thailand have become destinations for medical care for non-residents, Alberta could consider this too in the long-term.

But not at my expense.

What I find lacking in Liepert’s response is that he says his plan is simple, but he goes on to describe objectives, not a plan. I wonder why he has to respond in this way, at this late date.

Why aren’t these staged plans being presented to the public in a clear manner, with an explanation of where and how the money will come from to finance the 800 community beds?

Why is this information not being communicated in a respectful way toward our health professionals (and in this group I include everyone from the cleaning staff to the nurses and doctors, because you can’t do surgery without a clean operating room)?

Why are nurses being mocked and picked on? And who will be the “team” member who treats me in Liepert’s physician-led care plan? An LPN? An EMT?

If the doctor will only be a phone call away, does it mean he/she will always only be available by phone?

Health services do not exist in a vacuum.

How will AHS address the extraordinary costs of motor vehicle collisions? Will AHS continue to be a silent partner serving the broken bodies of collision survivors or will there be a cross ministry initiative between Transportation and Infrastructure, the criminal justice system, AADAC and industry to reduce collisions to zero?

This type of initiative alone would significantly reduce the immediate and long-term burden on health services.

A 2002 SmartRisk study revealed that motor vehicle collisions cost the Alberta health system between $115 million and $311 million in indirect lost social productivity (not to mention the public burden of police and emergency crews, accident investigation, and the costs of the criminal justice system). There’s a half billion in costs right there!

Liepert’s letter does not address these issues, which I believe are fundamental to the spiralling costs of health care. However, he does talk of personal responsibility.

I refer you back to the Health First 2001 report wherein several “epidemics” are noted — smoking, injury, diabetes and that 30 per cent or so of us are overweight. Uh, so? What are you hinting at, minister?

Liepert closes by saying that somehow the fearmongering and rhetoric are the reason why we can’t have a productive, open dialogue. This sounds like “blame the victim” to me.

If we were getting clear, respectful and well-laid-out communications from AHS, the minister would not have to write this letter saying “Yes, I was aware of the change and yes, I support it.”

Fine, Minister Liepert. You may support it all you want. But we the citizens, who pay taxes and who expect to receive services, were not aware of the changes and therefore we have difficulty supporting or assessing what your AHS and its associated advisory committee are doing.

If your plan is all about patients — we are all potential patients. In Canada, the requirement for medical treatment is full disclosure.

Give us that, Minister Liepert — not an op-ed in the paper.

Michelle Stirling-Anosh is a Ponoka freelance columnist.