The Health Minister has been saying for months that he is open to suggestions on how to improve Alberta’s health care system. However the credibility of his statement has been seriously undermined by the Premier’s steadfast refusal to admit there is a health care crisis and by the Health Minister’s disdainful dismissal of every recommendation offered by the opposition parties and medical experts.
It also appears that the Minister is not yet ready to unveil the recommendations made by his own team of external consultants. McKinsey and Company, a global management consulting firm, landed a $1 million contract to produce a plan to improve the Alberta health care system, however this plan has yet to see the light of day.
Perhaps the suggestions made by the opposition parties are too costly and perhaps the improvements suggested by McKinsey are too radical. Maybe it would be helpful to look for answers a little closer to home. How about Lethbridge? Greg Weadick is the Conservative MLA for Lethbridge-West and the parliamentary assistant for Advanced Education and Technology. On Nov 24, 2010 he spoke in support of the new health bill and made a remarkable comment about the state of health care in Lethbridge/Medicine Hat. This region serves two urban centres (Lethbridge and Medicine Hat), a widely dispersed rural population of ranchers and farmers and, in Mr Weadick’s words “a great swath” of southeastern British Columbia. Sounds like a scaled down version of the Province of Alberta, doesn’t it?
Lethbridge and Medicine Hat continue to be among the top few hospitals across the country that regularly meet the Canadian Associate of Emergency Professionals (CAEP) wait time targets. These are the same targets that Dr Sherman tried to enshrine in the new Alberta Health Act. In the Lethbridge/Medicine Hat area the average wait time is about 2.5 hours. The other Alberta hospitals are struggling to meet the target wait times of 4 hours for treatment/discharge or 8 hours for treatment/admission.
How did Lethbridge/Medicine Hat accomplish this? Mr Weadick says that “…men and women on the front line …worked together and created protocols where wait times …were significantly reduced.” One way this was achieved was by increasing the number of continuing care beds by 50%, up from 1000 to 1,500. If we’ve learned anything from this crisis it is this: adding continuing care beds frees up acute care beds which in turn frees up ER beds which reduces wait times. Another creative solution was to work with the municipalities and the health care providers to create a joint fire-ambulance service. This resulted in more efficient, less expensive service.
This achievement is all the more astounding when one considers that it was achieved during that period of increased confusion, decreased morale and reduced autonomy that resulted from the merger of the nine decentralized health regions into the monolithic AHS.
So Minister Zwozdesky, I understand your reasons for dismissing the suggestions from the opposition parties—it’s just not politically expedient—but won’t you at least follow up on the comments made by your own parliamentary assistant (for education and technology no less) and check out Lethbridge?