Together, we can help to rebuild and reimagine a better way

A message from our Executive Director: 

Together, we can help to rebuild and reimagine a better way

The past few weeks have certainly been a difficult time for all of us, but as we look around the world and to each other, we can see that this pandemic has shone a light on the importance of Canada’s universal public health care system. It has served to strengthen our resolve to continue to fight to protect and expand our public health care. This pandemic has made it clear that the true measure of a government's leadership will be made evident through the political choices they make as we deal with this health crisis, and as we move forward to deal with the new political and economic reality that will face us after it is done.

In Alberta, we have seen our government, during one of the worst health crises we have ever faced, make the decision to bully through a budget that was short-sighted, attacked public services, and set the stage for further privatization of our health care.

Throughout this pandemic Alberta Public Laboratories (APL) has been a great source of pride and has been touted by our government as a great success. Per capita, Alberta has completed more COVID-19 tests than any other jurisdiction in North America. What’s more, our testing rate ranks third highest of any region in the world. The importance of having a public lab that has the capacity to take on this pandemic head on should be at the forefront when this government decides to move forward in their plan to privatize this integral part of our health care system a decision that needs to be reconsidered and stopped from proceeding.  

Over the past several weeks, we have witnessed how our Minister of Health, Tyler Shandro, rather than sitting down at the bargaining table with our province’s physicians, has instead made the decision to engage in a very public dispute. Since the time that Minister Shandro announced that his government had unilaterally terminated the contract between the Alberta government and the Alberta Medical Association (AMA), we have been hearing from physicians that the new proposed payment scheme will diminish the medical care of Albertans. Doctors know that this change will threaten the viability of community and primary medical practices across the province which form the backbone of health care for patients. While the Minister has since “suspended” provisions related to the amount of time that physicians can see patients, and has put changes to some stipends on pause, the government has nevertheless continued forward in imposing their previously announced plan for physician billing. These changes have resulted in a number of doctors handing in their notice to resign from their hospital privileges, in some cases leaving rural communities without obstetrical and ER services. A number of primary care clinics have also closed their doors as a direct result of the governments’ funding changes to the Schedule of Medical Benefit Claim fees.

With a targeted attack against physicians providing primary care, our government decided to make use of this health crisis to tout a corporate relationship with Babylon-Telus’ virtual care platform. There are lingering questions regarding the data and privacy compliance of this platform, which was created by a third party and which has access to our health care information through Netcare. More will be forthcoming with respect to the use of virtual care by tech companies.

Meanwhile, negotiations with nurses and other health care professionals are “temporarily” suspended, though there has been no assurance that this government will not follow through with proposed cuts to front line workers once the pandemic is over. The same goes for negotiations with general support services, including housekeepers, food staff, and laundry workers, who will all see their jobs contracted out to the private sector. All those Albertans who are continuing to work tirelessly to keep our health facilities clean and safe during this pandemic, could potentially be on the way out after the threat has passed. 

Further, a flood light has been shone on the manner in which provincial governments provide care to our seniors. More than half of those who have died as a result of COVID-19 in this province are seniors residing in care facilities, and Alberta has not been an exception. After years of advocating for public ownership of seniors’ care in this province, as well as for staffing ratios, and an end to the misuse of public health dollars away from staffing and resources and towards shareholder profit, in Alberta we are now seeing the long term implications.

Now more than ever we need workers to be provided with PPE, and for workers to have standardized wages that allow them to feed their families while caring for ours. We need consistent and appropriate standards and regulations to deal with this pandemic. We need staff ratios that ensure that our seniors are being cared for when their families are not able to be by their side. We need unannounced facility inspections to ensure that facility operators are meeting all public health orders. Finally, we need a government that is committed to bringing seniors care under the public umbrella and ending the privatization that has served to exacerbate this current crisis. Working conditions are care conditions! This has never been truer as we navigate this pandemic.

At this point, it is not enough to merely acknowledge the important role played by our front line health care workers, it is also imperative that they receive the full support of our governments now and going forward. COVID-19 has served a timely reminder to our governments that we must ensure our front line health care workers have all the resources they need to allow them to provide the best care possible on behalf of all Albertans.

We cannot allow this crisis to be leveraged to dismantle our universal public health care. Instead, it has become especially timely that Alberta must fortify our commitment to a system based not on profit, but instead on the shared belief that health care is a human right.

We have a lot of work ahead of us to ensure that the financial crisis that awaits us is not used to further erode our public health. We invite you to join the work that FOM will continue to do in coming months. Together, we can help to rebuild and reimagine a better way to go forward in expanding and defending our public health care.

In solidarity,

Sandra Azocar
Executive Director
Friends of Medicare