Health care needs much more than a Band-Aid solution

Six thousand, five hundred – the difference in the total number of hospital beds available in Alberta for the two decades between 1989 and 2009.

Six thousand, five hundred – the difference in the total number of hospital beds available in Alberta for the two decades between 1989 and 2009.

Given that over the same period of time the provincial population grew by approximately 1.1 million bodies, you’d be inclined to believe the difference in hospital beds is a reflection of that growth.

Nope.

In 1989, there were 13,300 beds shared throughout Alberta. This past year, the number of available spots had dropped to 6,800.

Feel free to scratch your head now.

Every year since 1991, the provincial Conservatives had told Albertans how expensive health care is, how paying for universal health care in the province consumes more of the budget than any other single portfolio

To live up to what polite critics call a misdirection and impolite critics call an out-an-out lie, health minister after health minister has pared away at beds and services to try and get costs under control.

Yes, health care is more expensive today than it was in 1999. So is everything else – wages are higher, materials and pharmaceuticals cost more, fuel is more expensive, food is more dear.

Nothing is priced the same. Throw in a million more people and there is no way for health care costs to remain stagnant.

And yet, every time Health Minister Ron Liepert opens his mouth, he wants costs to come down.

He started with ramming Alberta Health Services down the taxpayers’ throat in 2008. The health care super board replaced nine regional health boards under the pretense of eliminating the deficit many of the regions were running.

It hasn’t worked out that way.

AHS posted a proposed deficit of $1.1 billion, and the Royal Alexandria Hospital in Edmonton cut surgeries by 15 per cent this year in an effort to curtail costs.

In August, Health Services CEO Stephen Duckett asked nurses, lab techs and other health care service providers to consider taking early retirement packages. Positions vacated by those taking the packages would not be filled except where necessary.

It’s a shortsighted approach that has been repeated through the years.

Following this path leaves Alberta even further in a deficit not represented by mere numbers. Encouraging senior staff to retire leaves the province with a dearth of experience

People familiar with what it takes to care for Albertans depart, leaving no one to mentor the trickle of new health care providers brought on board. Further, staffing reductions continue the erosion of a health facility’s ability to provide care, resulting in even more bed closures.

So we end up here, with a population increase of more than a million (the majority members of the Baby Boom generation and therefore aging in a monstrous swell) and an ability to provide access to hospital beds reduced by half.

This disconnect should be making us angry. It is becoming patently obvious that your health, my health, our children’s health is less important than dollar signs.

So far, though, all we’ve seen is a general irritation.

And instead of angry, we’re just sad.

-TMac

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