Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
October 26, 2009
Spewing health care stats fails to tell what is happening
Scrutinize opinion poll responses and you realize Albertans want gov't to 'Do More With More'
A Shepherd Speaks
By BISHOP FRED HENRY
A recent CBC poll gave Alberta Health Minister Ron Liepert a failing grade. In his response, the minister said that the results reflect more of a failure to communicate than displeasure with actual health care decisions.
This claim simply doesn't stand up to scrutiny.
The changes announced by the Alberta government in the past few months include: closing 246 psychiatric care beds; a voluntary early retirement program for health care workers; downsizing of the registered nurse population in favour of less qualified health care workers; closure of 300 hospital beds in Calgary and Edmonton, and the transfer of those patients into community care.
WHAT HE BELIEVES
He went on to say, "I don't believe that Albertans understand why we need to make changes and how we're going to make those changes."
He pointed out that the goal is to cut the deficit for Alberta Health Services. The shortfall stood at $1.3 billion at the beginning of this fiscal year.
"The reality of it is, health-care spending in this province increased by six per cent this year from last year, some $500 million," he said.
"We're not going to say everything we do is right, but I'll tell you what. We are going to make some decisions. We are going to change the way some things are delivered, so that the system is more efficient and more patient-focused."
To this claim, I simply say, "Enough talk, prove it!"
In the last election, the premier promised to build 600 new long-term care beds. Where are they?
Stephen Duckett, chief executive of Alberta Health Services, has said the number of nursing home beds should be determined by the needs of seniors. He also said: "I am not saying we're not going to close any long-term beds."
To free up space in emergency rooms, Duckett said he also wants to take patients who are waiting for long-term care spaces out of acute care beds and put them in long-term care facilities where they belong.
"Our staffing ratios are looking after those people as if they were acutely ill. So we can make some savings and at the same time we can give better service," Duckett said.
"We have to make those (long-term care) facilities available, and the good news in Calgary is there is a place called Garrison Green that will becoming online early next year."
WHERE ARE THEY?
We can all agree that those requiring long-term care should be in facilities specifically designed and staffed for such care. However, they should be built and staffed prior to cutting back on what is now available for such care.
Stop trying to "Do More with Less." The ideology is broken. It makes good copy to say that the changes are not only about cuts but also about service and efficiency. These kind of statements are purely gratuitous and without foundation. How are these changes going to reduce patient wait times and improve services?
It's time to "Do More With More."
The knee-jerk response is "We already are."
The Alberta Health Services board approved the budget for 2009-10 fiscal year that includes $10.9 billion in spending, a 13 per cent increase over the previous year. Despite an increase in provincial funding, the board is still $1.1 billion short.
The numbers look impressive and suggest that the current level of spending is unsustainable. What is not talked about, nor reflected in these numbers is inflation, population growth, revenue or GDP.
When inflation and population growth are taken into consideration, health care spending has grown only slightly and that growth is very affordable for Alberta.
MORE AFFORDABLE TODAY
Health care spending in relation to the size and health of the economy (GDP) is the true measure of affordability. By this measure, public health care is actually more affordable today than it was in 1990. Health care spending went from 4.5 per cent of GDP in 1990 to 3.9 per cent in 2006.
Compared to GDP, health care costs are down but the government claims that it is not affordable. Why? The Alberta government has chosen to slash revenues. Alberta's taxes are lower than almost every other jurisdiction in North America and Alberta has no sales tax.
It is the government's job to ensure that the infrastructure and healthy trained workforce businesses need are in place. That requires taxes and health care.
Poll after poll shows that Albertans do not want tax cuts if it means health care cuts. In 2004 when Alberta first moved into a surplus position, Ralph Klein surveyed Albertans as to where the surplus should go. Top priorities were health care, education and the environment.
Health care and education were preferred to tax cuts by a large majority of Albertans.
Even help for the needy was on par with tax cuts and a higher priority for a significant number.
What did Albertans get?
Tax cuts and health care cuts.
Health care makes up an increasing portion of provincial spending but this is not principally because of skyrocketing health care costs.
We need to "Do More with More."
(The above information is based on research by the Parkland Institute at the University of Alberta, published in "Sustainable Health Care For Seniors: Keeping it Public" by Greg Flanagan (2008) and "the Bottom Line: the Truth Behind Private Health Insurance" by Diana Gibson (2006).)