So in reviewing the events of the last two years one can see that the government reacted swiftly and decisively to neutralize the medical community and the regional health boards who were trying to fix the ailing health care system. It consolidated the health boards (one board is much easier to control than nine). It instituted a Code of Conduct which effectively gagged the whistleblowers who called for improvements in patient care. It ousted the troublemakers: Dr Sherman tried to hold Stelmach and Zwozdesky accountable and was tossed out of caucus. Dr Duckett slipped up and became a convenient scapegoat to divert public attention away from the real problem. Zwozdesky tightened his grip on the AHS Board and four directors resigned. In the words of Dr Andreas Laupacis, “The interference of Minister Zwozdesky in the AHS Board’s decision about how to deal with AHS CEO Stephen Duckett’s recent episode…clearly violated the board’s independence.”
In addition to cleaning house and doing away with the dissenters, the government, through the AHS issued a flurry of press releases to demonstrate that health care was back on the radar screen. In the last month we’ve seen the announcement of the ER surge capacity protocol (a suggestion contained in the EDIT report which had lain dormant since mid 2009), countless wait time targets, performance targets for mental health, patient satisfaction surveys, increased access to continuing care, and of course the long awaited 5 year plan (which had been ready to go since June 2010 but was stalled for reasons known only to the health minister).
If you view these events through the lens of politics you’ll see two things. One: a colossal misstep on the part of the government in 2008 when it wrongly assumed that the top priority for Albertans was the reduction of the $8 billion deficit regardless of the deleterious impact it would have on the delivery of quality health care and two: damage control on all fronts to obscure the cause of the health care crisis which started with the ill-conceived decisions of the Klein government and was exacerbated by the Stelmach regime. Will the damage control work? You tell me. In the middle of the November, Stelmach’s approval rating was 21%. Sounds low, but consider this. The year before he only scored 14%. That is politics, and the only benchmark that Stelmach and Zwozdesky truly understand.