Mismanagement, bullying hurt health system: panel

Bureaucratic mismanagement and bullying of doctors have knocked Alberta’s health system off the rails and brought much patient suffering, a government panel reported Wednesday.

EDMONTON — Bureaucratic mismanagement and bullying of doctors have knocked Alberta’s health system off the rails and brought much patient suffering, a government panel reported Wednesday.

Dr. John Cowell said that five years after the province was told how to fix the core issue — poor management of hospital beds — the problem remains.

“Wait times in Alberta urban (emergency departments) are still far too long,” said Cowell.

“Patients waiting for a hospital bed is the single most important factor contributing to (emergency department) crowding.

‘Sadly this was found in 2007, this has been known for a very long time. What needs to happen is: solve this problem. Manage the beds you’ve got in a far more strategic and tactical manner.”

Cowell made the comments after releasing the results and recommendations of a study ordered up 10 months ago by former premier Ed Stelmach to investigate allegations of avoidable patient deaths, cover-ups and bullying of doctors in the system.

Premier Alison Redford has since promised that an independent public inquiry will follow with its mandate shaped around the Health Quality Council findings.

Cowell’s team said they found widespread bullying of doctors who spoke out on substandard patient care. The backlash ranged from doctors being ignored to some losing their hospital privileges.

Cowell said the result has been doctors either leaving or continuing to work but as cynical clock-punchers no longer willing to fight for a system they felt was unfixable.

“Interviewees and survey respondents alike described a culture in which physicians felt disengaged and alienated from the system,” he said.

“There is a great deal of anger, frustration, and alienation.”

The council was also asked to investigate allegations made by Liberal Leader Raj Sherman, himself an emergency room doctor, that 250 patients died needlessly while awaiting lung cancer surgery.

Cowell said they could find no evidence of that.

The issue has become politically charged with a general election call expected within a month or so and opponents saying the government has lost the ability and the moral authority to fix health care.

Redford has promised to call the public inquiry before the election. Cowell’s report, however, said an inquiry on intimidation may not be needed because his panel has done all the spadework.

The report instead urges the government to use the money to fix the problem of bullying through programs and a task force.

But opposition critics say that recommendation is an attempt by Cowell to give political wiggle room to Redford to allow her to avoid calling a public inquiry that would bring scrutiny on potentially embarrassing and outrageous behaviour of her government.

They also say it won’t get to the root of the problem.

Danielle Smith of the Wildrose party said if doctors don’t feel they can speak up for reform, all is lost.

“We have to get to the bottom of the bullying and intimidation to free up physicians to be able to advocate on behalf of their patients,” said Smith.

Liberal critic David Swann, himself a medical doctor, said that only a public inquiry will root out the problem. Without it, he said, the problem will reappear in a few years time.

“Hold these people’s feet to the fire. Get the people who have been making bad decisions, continue to make bad decisions, continue to intimidate people in the health system — get them out,” said Swann.

NDP Leader Brian Mason said it’s not surprising Cowell’s team didn’t sort out the problems at the political level.

“This body is a creation, a creature, of the provincial government. And they will not — and do not — have the capacity to lay the blame for this culture at the foot of their masters,” said Mason.

Cowell said his panel did interview politicians. He said they found politicians “meddled” on behalf of individuals or groups but found nothing more sinister or substantive.

Health Minister Fred Horne said that while he was still going through the Cowell report, he agreed that moving the health system from regional boards to one superboard in 2008 brought some instability.

“I think it’s been a difficult transition for a lot of people,” said Horne.

“A lot of it happened in a hurry. A lot of our physicians in particular felt some confusion about where they fit in, how they have input.”

He said the government will proceed with a public inquiry.

“The fact is this government has made a commitment and this is a government that lives up to its commitments,” he said.

The government has already taken steps to address the concerns outlined in Cowell’s report.

The province is in year two of a five-year plan to reduce waiting times.

The plan is to have serious cases assessed and admitted within eight hours of arrival 90 per cent of the time by March 2015.

However, last week Horne confirmed they are failing to meet even interim targets of 60 per cent of cases within the eight-hour window.

Horne has said the government is also making progress by opening up a thousand new continuing care spaces.

Alberta Health Services set up a 1-800 hotline number three weeks ago for staff and physicians to call with concerns.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Alberta vaccine rollout expanding to front-line health-care workers

More than 240,000 eligible health-care workers can begin booking vaccine appointments starting… Continue reading

File photo
The Red Deer Rebels will have three new assistant coaches when the WHL regular season starts on Friday. Brad Flynn (left), will be on the bench alongside fellow assistant Ryan Colville (right) head coach Brent Sutter (middle). (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Sutter steps down as Red Deer Rebels head coach

Red Deer Rebels Owner, GM and head coach Brent Sutter has stepped… Continue reading

Premier Jason Kenney announced $200 million more money that will benefit seniors living in continuing care on Wednesday. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta’s in-school rapid screening test program expanding

Alberta’s in-school rapid screening test program will expand to as many as… Continue reading

Parents and students learned Tuesday what the coming school year will look like. It's pretty much back to business as usual, said Education Minister Adriana LaGrange. School precautions include frequent cleaning, keeping students in the same groups where possible, planning the school day to allow for physical distancing and staying home when sick. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta’s largest school board says no to United Conservative draft school curriculum

CALGARY — Alberta’s largest school board says it will not use the… Continue reading

Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan is among those who have signed an open letter criticizing the government’s return to stricter health measures. (Advocate file photo).
Updated: Kenney tells UCP caucus COVID-19 dissent OK, breaking health rules means expulsion

15 MLAs released letter on Wednesday critical of new health restrictions

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau watches a speaker appear by videoconference during a news conference in Ottawa, Friday, April 9, 2021. Grassroots Liberals have overwhelmingly endorsed a resolution calling on the federal government to develop and implement a universal basic income — despite Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's apparent lack of enthusiasm for the idea. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau winds up Liberal convention with election campaign-style speech

OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau wound up a three-day Liberal convention Saturday with… Continue reading

Team Canada skip Brendan Bottcher makes a shot against Italy at the Men's World Curling Championships in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, April 6, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Men’s world curling championship in Calgary in COVID limbo

CALGARY — The men’s world curling championship in Calgary remained suspended Saturday… Continue reading

Pipes intended for construction of the Keystone XL pipeline are shown in Gascoyne, N.D. on Wednesday April 22, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alex Panetta
Non-profit Quebec law centre to aid environmental group targeted by Alberta oil firm

QUEBEC — The Quebec Environmental Law Centre is coming to the aid… Continue reading

Conservative leader Erin O'Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 6, 2020. Top Tory leaders of past and present will speak with supporters today about what a conservative economic recovery from COVID-19 could look like. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Conservatives cite empathy, relationships as ways to help expand their movement

OTTAWA — Conservatives should show empathy with Black residents who say they’ve… Continue reading

NDP Leader John Horgan celebrates his election win in the British Columbia provincial election in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. New Democrats are reconvening for the second day of a three-day policy convention as they look to push past the glitches of the virtual event's opening sessions and rally around keynote speaker John Horgan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
New Democrats reconvene as hiccups, frustrations plague national policy convention

OTTAWA — New Democrats reconvened Saturday for the second day of a… Continue reading

Owner of 4 Point Taekwondo Kevin Mejia holds a board as organizer and martial artist Kevin Olsen breaks it in Edmonton on Friday, April 9, 2021. One hundred martial artists from around the world, will be breaking a board for an event called "Break for a Breakthrough." The idea is for martial artists to unite and re-engage with the arts because they may have drifted away or lost enthusiasm as a result of the pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Break for a Breakthrough: Canadian hosts international martial arts demonstration

EDMONTON — Whether he’s breaking a wooden board, a clay tile, cement… Continue reading

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, Duke of Ediburgh, left, look on as Manitoba Beaver peaks out of his box at a July 14, 1970 ceremony in which Hudson's Bay Company observed an old tradition. The death of Prince Philip has reminded a small French village in Manitoban about how a royal visit half a century ago made the community the centre of frog racing in Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS
Prince Philip’s frog-jumping legacy in a Manitoba French community

WINNIPEG — The death of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, has reminded… Continue reading

The Yukon provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, Monday July 6, 2020. Yukon residents will head to the polls on Monday for Canada's fourth election held during the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Yukon residents set to vote in fourth election held in Canada during pandemic

WHITEHORSE — Yukon residents will head to the polls on Monday for… Continue reading

Most Read