Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
February 4, 2002
Alberta government rewrites history
In its bid to further privatize health care, the Alberta government is rewriting history to suit its ideological leanings. The provincial health and wellness department's new brochure, Alberta: Health First, given to many Albertans along with a copy of the Mazankowski report, begins its A History of Health Care in Alberta this way: "The first hospitals in Alberta appeared as private organizations, sometimes in homes, or as company facilities for employees.
Municipal hospitals began to appear in the 1920s . . .".
In fact, the first hospitals in Alberta were established by the Grey Nuns and other orders of religious women. The Edmonton General Hospital opened in 1895 and Edmonton's Misericordia Hospital in 1900. The ward which led eventually to the establishment of Calgary's Holy Cross Hospital was set up in 1891.
By 1956, there were 33 hospitals in Alberta run under Catholic auspices and several others by Lutherans and the Salvation Army. As well, in the early days, churches often hired doctors and nurses to travel to treat people in isolated parts of the province.
The Alberta government may want to consider churches and religious orders as "private organizations" to rationalize its own determination that future health care in the province be more privately run. But they are not "private" in any ordinary use of the word.
The government's narrow viewpoint must reduce everything to public (that is, government-run) or private. But in fact voluntary institutions have long been recognized as a third form with rationale and values quite different than either government or private institutions.
Voluntary hospitals, for example, not infrequently provided care to low-income people for free or accepted fish or garden vegetables in lieu of payment. For them, the person came first, not money or bureaucracy.
There were drawbacks to such a system - not the least was the poor pay for staff - but it provided a service that could not be provided by profit-oriented health care and that governments were not yet ready to assume.
Voluntary health care continues to be an important part of Alberta's health care system. The values of Catholic health care are at least as important today as in the past now that technological advances at times threaten to sweep away human values.
At one time, abortion and sterilization were the main actions used by secular hospitals that Catholics maintained are immoral. Today, there are concerns about a much-wider range of issues from embryo experimentation to in vitro fertilization to end-of-life care where Catholic teaching is at variance with what society finds acceptable.
A Catholic voice in health care remains necessary albeit with a sometimes different focus than in simpler times. The continued existence of Catholic hospitals is one way for the Church not only to have a voice in the system but also to develop the expert knowledge that enables it to speak with competence.
We also need to continue to speak for those more traditional concerns such as providing equal access to care for all Alberta citizens. And we need to continue to insist that health care is holistic - that it involves the spirit as well as the body.
We must resist all so-called reforms that would make health-care institutions more like factories, that would force people to wait unnecessarily for important care and that would make profits a primary motive in providing treatment.
We would further like the Alberta government to acknowledge the role that religious orders and their members played, at great personal sacrifice, in running health-care institutions in this province. It is a shame to see the government ignoring the role of Catholic health care in order to create a myth that suits its own political agenda.
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