This Op Ed by FOM's Executive Director, Chris Gallaway, originally appeared in the Edmonton Journal and the Calgary Herald on February 15, 2022.
David Staples’ recent column titled “Fragility of ICU system shows health-care system is broken” is just the latest in what appears to be a co-ordinated chorus from reactionary columnists, right-wing politicians, and conservative think tanks, all of which are lining up to seed the narrative that our public health care is “broken.” Predictably, they go on to conclude that the only solution is privatization.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. What we are seeing is our provincial government using the COVID-19 pandemic as cover for an ideologically driven agenda of funding cuts and privatization in Alberta’s public health-care system. They are intentionally “breaking” it to justify their real agenda: further privatization.
While the pandemic initially slowed the UCP’s early attempts to privatize pieces of our health care, they are now wasting no time in selling things off.
Upon getting elected, the UCP government quickly halted, then cancelled, the much-needed super lab project in Edmonton. Community lab funds were frozen and they were instructed not to buy new equipment. The government neglected our medical labs to the point of disrepair. Now they’re offering privatization through a sweetheart deal to a for-profit company, DynaLife, as the only solution.
Emergency medical services in Alberta have been in crisis for months, years even. Yet while health-care workers, unions, community groups, municipalities, and Albertans have all been raising the alarm bells, the government has let the crisis continue to grow without a plan. Now that Alberta’s EMS services have reached a breaking point, the government announced a 10-point plan and a new panel clearly designed to contribute to the creeping privatization of our EMS services.
Since 2019, the Canadian Blood Services has been implementing a strategy to grow the number of volunteer blood plasma donors in Canada. Rather than support the public agency, the UCP government passed MLA Tany Yao’s private member’s bill to allow pay-for-plasma operators to open in Alberta. Now Albertans are getting bombarded with advertisements encouraging them to sign up to make money by selling their blood plasma, which the company can then sell into the U.S. markets.
With talk of looming staff shortages throughout our public health-care system, our government should be working proactively with Alberta’s public universities, colleges and institutes to ensure we have the skilled workforce we need in the years ahead. Instead, we are seeing a hostile approach with secret bargaining mandates for workers and deep cuts that are decimating these important post-secondary institutions.
Not to mention the privatization of laundry services, attacks on doctors and health-care workers, ongoing layoffs, and new plans being developed for seniors’ care; truly the list goes on and on.
Rather than investing in our public health-care system in the interest of all Albertans, at every turn, the UCP government is choosing to offload their responsibility to provide quality health services, turning over much of our system into the hands of a private, for-profit companies.
Ultimately, this isn’t about fixing a “broken” system. History tells us this won’t save money. It’s about their ideological push to see more of our public health dollars going to reward private profit.
The provincial budget will soon be tabled. Tens of thousands of surgeries have been cancelled due to the ongoing pandemic. The idea of a new private orthopedic surgical facility, the largest ever in Alberta, has already been floated. Will the upcoming budget put our public hospitals and surgeries next into the privatization crosshairs?
Albertans should be concerned and watching closely. We can’t be fooled by claims of a “broken” system. The government is choosing this path. We need to be ready to stand up and demand they invest in the public health-care system we deserve. It’s time to say no more public dollars for private profit.