Remember those silly math games we played as children—what’s 1 plus 1? Two? No silly it’s 11! As children these games were quite amusing, but as adults they’ve become tiresome. The PC’s should bear this in mind when they make their breathless announcements about “new” additions to our healthcare system.
This week we learned that the South Health Campus, a full service Calgary hospital, will be phased into operation starting in 2012. There’s just one snag—there’s no budget for operating costs. In other words, the SHC will be finished but the lights won’t be on. Not to worry says Health Minister Zwozdesky, “The funds will be there, one way or another.” Ms Wasylak, the AHS VP for South Health Campus, is “…confident our partnership with the government is going to allow us to have all the people and get the building running”. Well, that’s reassuring.
Ms Wasylak’s confidence is based on her belief that the Alberta government will not renege on its 5 year funding commitment to the AHS.* I’m not so sure. Why? Because on Feb 24 Premier Stelmach will deliver what he calls a “tough” budget. This is the same budget that was not “tough” enough for Mr Morton, the frontrunner for Premier Stelmach’s job.
I’m worried about Mr Morton for a number of reasons. First, he is a right-wing small “c” conservative, notwithstanding his recent efforts to soften his hard line image. Second, Mr Morton was the Finance Minister when Health Minister Zwozdesky made the 5 year funding commitment on behalf of the government and surely noticed that the SHC budget (like many healthcare initiatives) contained no provision for the estimated $433 million annual operating costs. Apparently this did not trouble the Finance Minister enough to stop the funding commitment from being made in the first place. Third, the first 2 years of the 5 year funding commitment should be embedded in the Feb 24 provincial budget—the very same budget that triggered Mr Morton’s threat to resign rather than face the ignominy of presenting a budget he could not support. This is important for a number of reasons.
Whether by luck or design, Mr Morton’s threat to resign triggered Premier Stelmach’s resignation and kick-started the leadership race. In order to run for the leadership Mr Morton had to resign as Finance Minister and join the backbenchers. As Mr Morton walked out of his Finance Minister’s office and climbed up into the back benches he had a revelation. He realized that although he could not support the budget as Finance Minister, he could support the budget as a backbencher. How is this possible? Did Mr Morton, backbencher, forget all the things Mr Morton, Finance Minister, found offensive in the budget? Are backbenchers by definition less intelligent and ethical than Finance Ministers? More importantly, why would Ms Wasylak, or anyone for that matter, take any comfort in a government commitment when it is made by this government?
One final point about the South Health Campus. The SHC, together with the Peter Lougheed Centre, are slated to meet the burgeoning demand for increased maternity capacity (the “baby bump” if you will). Calgary hospitals can deliver 11,000 babies a year. Unfortunately Calgary mothers are having 18,000 babies a year—that means 7000 babies are being born in less than ideal conditions. By 2015, the stork will be trying to find layettes for 20,600 babies. The most that Calgary hospitals can handle, even with the SHC and the Peter Lougheed Centre in full operation, is 14,665. That means that 5935 babies will be born under a cabbage in 2015 because there won’t be any room for them in the hospitals. And guess what, there is no operating budget for the maternity related improvements at the Peter Lougheed Centre either.
But take heart, Roman Cooney AHS Senior VP of Communications says he’s confident the money will be made available—“I don’t think it’s going to be a barrier, although it will be a challenge”. I guess that takes us back to Health Minister Zwodesky’s comment that the funds will be found “one way or another”.
Instead of praying for the stork to deliver a bag of money at the same time it drops a baby we should focus on getting the healthcare funding plan to align with the healthcare promises the government has been making to its citizens, even the little tiny ones, because 2 + 2 + 2 = 6, not 222.
* NOTE: The 5 year funding commitment promises to provide funding increases of 6% for the first 3 years and 4.5% for the last 2 years on the existing budget of $15 billion. The AHS will receive $9 billion in base operating funding in 2010-11. This amount rises to $11.1 billion in 2014-15.