Enough is Enough: No time left for political foot-dragging

September 30, 2021
EDMONTON

Enough is Enough: No time left for political foot-dragging

The last two press conferences held by Premier Jason Kenney and Minister of Health Jason Copping have been filled with what Premier Kenney does best: non-answers, inconsistent with what Albertans actually need to stop this devastating fourth wave. In his many non-responses to media questions, our Premier continuously compared our province’s current COVID-19 numbers with those of other jurisdictions in this and previous waves, downplaying the true gravity of our present situation. 

“Kenney may be optimistic about our case numbers and hospital admissions appearing to have plateaued, but that’s not the outlook Albertans have been hearing from our health care workers and patients across the province,” says Sandra Azocar, Executive Director of Friends of Medicare. “These are the same levels that have already been overwhelming our health care system. This is not sustainable and we can’t keep on like this.”

On September 27th, the government announced that the regulations pertaining to Bill 1: the Critical Infrastructure Defense Act would be expanded to now include hospitals, in a very late response to anti-vaccine protests held outside Alberta hospitals more than two weeks ago. 

Today, the government announced that the Priorities Implementation Cabinet Committee (PICC) will now require proof of vaccination or negative testing for Alberta’s 25,000 public services employees. Also announced today is that Alberta will be receiving aid in the form of up to 10 ICU-trained staff from the Canadian Armed Forces, up to 20 ICU-trained staff with various levels of training from the Canadian Red Cross, and five to six ICU-trained staff from Newfoundland and Labrador. This help is to be accepted “as soon as possible,” contrary to news stories from just two days ago that Kenney had refused offers for help from the Canadian Military and from the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, deferring aid until at least mid-October when he expected that we would reach the peak of our health capacity. 

But the real story is the fact that Premier Kenney was still unable to provide any real answers as to how many people must die before he considers following the urgent requests of all medical experts in this province. Despite ongoing calls from doctors, health care workers, experts, advocates (including Friends of Medicare), the Canadian Medical Association, and several other organizations, he has refused wholesale to entertain any discussion of our need for a fire break to protect Albertans and prevent the imminent collapse of our health care system. Instead, the Premier made very clear that there are “no other measures currently under consideration,” and indicated that he will continue to watch COVID trends closely before making any new decisions about further steps.

“I think what we’re experiencing in this province as advocates, as front-line workers, and Albertans in general, is a real sense of collective despair and hopelessness. Every day we’re witnessing death, grief, fear, and uncertainty on a historic scale, but we’ve been effectively abandoned by our government.” says Azocar.

As advocates, we have for decades called out the trend by successive Alberta governments of ongoing piecemeal staffing cuts and bed closures in health care facilities across this province. Now, during one of the worst health crises Alberta has ever seen, we’re seeing the full impact of health care cuts: Albertans are being hospitalized at unprecedented rates in a wave that could have been prevented. Our health care workers are overworked, stretched to their limit, and our province is on the verge of having to make care decisions that should never have to be made.

“The scene playing out in this province is nothing short of disturbing,” says Azocar. “It is dismal to think that this government is willing to allow people to continue to die, and allow our health care system to go off a cliff without any sense of urgency, but that is the situation we find ourselves in. It should go without saying that absolutely nothing is more important than saving the lives of Albertans, and protecting our vital public health care system.”

We don’t have time for any more political foot-dragging. It is clear now that the government’s approach of relying on vaccines alone to stop the spread is not working, and that additional public health measures are imminently needed. Friends of Medicare reiterates our calls for immediate action: We urgently need a fire break to allow Alberta Health Services to continue to provide all health care services to all Albertans, we must reimplement province-wide contact tracing, and we must ensure that masking is required in all indoor settings, including in classrooms.

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