Update: It’s official. On Jan 21/12 Ken Hughes was narrowly defeated on the 3rd ballot by Shiraz Shariff. Good move on the part of the PCs. Bad news for the opposition parties–the job of taking Calgary West away from the PCs just got a whole lot harder.
It’s not every day that a politician plants himself squarely in the crosshairs but that’s exactly what happened whenannounced he was running for the Conservative nomination in Calgary-West on the strength of his record as the chairman of the Alberta Health Services board.
Mr Hughes was chairman of the AHS board for 4 years. He says he has a “good” record and highlights his achievements as (1) creating objectives for the healthcare system, (2) making it more responsive, (3) making it accountable and (4) providing it with stable funding.* Sounds good, but is this true?
Yes, the system has objectives but the critical ones are not being met. Surgical wait times, ER wait times and seniors blocking acute care beds are still in the “red zone”.** Physician engagement has improved—now it’s 43%–but this is still nothing to write home about. Interestingly, patient satisfaction is up to 86%, once again confirming that if you can make it through the mob in ER you will receive good care. Bottom line: nothing has changed.
It is unclear what Mr Hughes is referring to. If it’s responsiveness to Albertan’s needs I urge you to re-read the last paragraph. If it’s responsiveness to the 7400 doctors represented by the Alberta Medical Association (AMA), they’ve been without a contract since March 2011. Contract negotiations broke down because the government and Mr Hughes refused to accept physician input into decision making and conflict resolution. Negotiations will hang in limbo for another 3 to 6 months to ensure that the AMA doesn’t rock the boat in the critical run-up to the election.
Meanwhile the AMA continues to be excluded from healthcare strategy. It was completely blindsided when Ms Redford rolled out her plan to implement Family Care Centres. The AMA doesn’t know what FCCs are or how they’re different from Primary Care Networks. Neither do we.
Do Ms Redford and the Health Minister deliberately keep Mr Hughes in the dark or is he privy to their strategy but loathe to share it with the AMA because his primary loyalty is to his political masters? In either case his conduct can hardly be described as responsive.
During Mr Hughes’ tenure he had two opportunities to demonstrate accountability. The first was when Dr Duckett was summarily dismissed by the Health Minister. Four of his board members resigned citing ministerial interference. Mr Hughes said nothing. The second opportunity arose when the 7400 doctors in the Alberta Medical Association called for a public inquiry into the intimidation of doctors. Mr Hughes said nothing. Instead of being accountable to his board and the physicians Mr Hughes ducked below the parapet out of the line of fire. We all know it can be a career limiting move to contradict the boss, but that’s when integrity kick in.
Mr Hughes is right, the 5 year funding plan is an excellent idea—one small snag, it wasn’t his idea. The 5 year funding plan was created by the former Health Minister, Mr Zwozdesky, so it’s a little disingenuous of Mr Hughes to take credit for the plan. ‘Nuff said.
The complete record
If Mr Hughes wants to talk about his record let’s talk about his entire record, including the rough patches. In addition to the culture of intimidation which continues to drive top-notch physicians out of the province and unacceptable wait times, the record contains sloppy diagnostic processes resulting in misdiagnoses all over the province, the mismanaged H1N1 vaccination program topped off by the Calgary Flames queue-jumping episode, transferring the Tom Baker cancer testing centre to an AHS subsidiary and the creation of 5 new health regions—a signal that the centralization strategy Mr Hughes is so proud of is unravelling.
Why is Mr Hughes relying on his record?
Given these blemishes on Mr Hughes’ record why is he relying on it in his bid for Ron Liepert’s old seat? Perhaps he actually believes his own PR. Or perhaps he knows his record will be a tough sell but as any good litigation lawyer will tell you, it’s always better to get the bad news out first and reshape it into something more palatable (if the voters are asleep they really will believe that black is white).
Or, and this is more likely, it doesn’t matter what Mr Hughes’ record is. Mr Hughes has been a loyal foot soldier and the Conservatives take care of their own. The old guard will ensure that Mr Hughes wins the nomination and lands a cabinet post that will ease him gently into retirement.
If this is the case Mr Hughes is not in the crosshairs at all. In fact he’s wearing a bullet proof vest and Ms Redford and her friends will ensure that he comes to no harm. However, his competition, young Mr Ellis, doesn’t stand a chance.
* Calgary Herald, Jan 4, 2012, A4
**AHS Performance Report Q2 2011/2012