Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 21, 2004
Ft. McMurray parish debates health care
By CHARLES WECKEND
Special to the WCR
It's not easy at any time to get a good turnout for a meeting at St. John the Baptist Parish in Fort McMurray. No matter how good the topic or presentation, people are too busy at the oil plants. Moreover, these days, spring sports and school activities are at a high point.
Nonetheless, Father Gerard Gauthier, the pastor, invited parishioners to come to discuss health care. The issue was important, given the federal election and apparent radical health care reforms being planned in Alberta over the summer. It was significant therefore that a group of around 25 showed up for the Monday evening - all the more because the Calgary Flames were playing a Stanley Cup game.
Many local questions were raised by the participants: Why is there such an acute shortage of medical practitioners in Fort McMurray? Why is there such a long wait for diagnostic work and specialist appointments? Why do the elderly seem shuffled around? Why is it difficult to find pro life physicians? Why do children have to go to Lac La Biche for tonsil surgery? Why do some patients, based on wealth or position, seem to get preferential treatment?
Other questions were more politically loaded: Why are we graduating only 300 physicians annually in Alberta when we need closer to 1,000? Are governments caving in to business and American pressures to cut and privatize? Why doesn't the funding formula account for the significant shadow population in the Fort McMurray work camps? Is the Alberta government going to cut and privatize merely on an ideological basis?
Why are some physicians asking that we bring only one complaint or issue to each appointment? Why do we, in a wealthy province, rate in the bottom half in health care investment? Why is it so hard to get a continuum of care - physical and psychological - for special needs students? Why can you get treatments in other provinces for illnesses like cancer that you can't get here? Who determines and how do we determine which services should be covered?"
The meeting focused on Catholic perspectives on these and other questions. It used the classic See, Judge, Act model of Catholic Action, emphasizing the "seeing and judging." Catholic values and beliefs were obtained from the Alberta Bishops' document of 2000, The Healing Ministry of Jesus Christ, and the 2001 Catholic Health Association of Canada brief to the Romanow Commission.
Among questions raised by these documents were: Why have the federal and provincial governments not lived up to their funding responsibility? What data support the Catholic position against for-profit care? Why is it taking so long to get beyond narrowly focusing on hospitals and physicians, and start funding primary care, home care, and the full spectrum of health and care? What is being done to deal with the excessive prescribing of drugs? Why isn't there greater accountability and transparency about costs?
In many ways, the meeting just touched the tip of the iceberg. Asked whether we need more such meetings, Father Gauthier said, "Definitely. Just in the brief review and discussion of the evening, we have 30 more persons who've seen the Catholic documents and will go back and review them. Without that, very few would have seen, discussed or explored them."
Some of the participants spoke of a need to meet again to talk about the health care staff shortages in Fort McMurray.