The politics of hospitals - part 1

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Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry is blessed with so many natural benefits that those of us who have spent most of our lives here can only rejoice. We’ve seen our region make our home. We have all the benefits and few of the problems faced in a large urban centre. From birth to death the services one counts on are here, and are being provided by highly trained professionals. As I get older and older, I relish the service providers—from dentists, to eye care, to medical physicians and to pharmacies.

Knowing that Eastern Ontario had been neglected by Queen’s Park especially with respect to hospital beds, MPP Jim Brownell is always happy to recant his first days at Queen’s Park spending it running from department to department telling all those who would listen that our region needed more beds, more nurses, more critical care units. To MPP Brownell this was simple: our population wasn’t getting younger; it was getting older.

Brownell’s efforts paid off, and a few weeks ago I spent five days in our hospital receiving a new hip. The service, the food, the staff, and the idea I was home made the experience memorable. If you’re reading this, doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, cooks—thanks a million. Hip doing fine; however, I’m still grumpy, or so says my wife. The real story here isn’t my operation, but rather the journey getting to my operation. For after six months of testing and retesting it was finally agreed I needed a new hip. Great news! Let’s get to it, but wait, I couldn’t go in the middle of my teaching term, so we agreed that as the hospital doesn’t do operations in later December, thank God, I’d go in early January. Okay all set, but on my big day, a rush on hospital beds by the elderly resulted in my surgery being cancelled and rescheduled for the first week of March. A five-week delay. So the question begs to be answered: Why so long? Why cancel in the first place? As I searched for answers to these questions I discovered that the answers go back in time.

Somewhere along the road to our modern health services model in Canada our leaders got lost and moved from our original philosophy of caring and nourishing small groups and individuals. We lost our ability to balance our inborn virtue to care for humans as persons, and thus focus on developing a society of justice and equality, which accommodates the wide scope of multiculturalism, which in Canada today is moving to a more USA class system in providing basic services and profit philosophy for doing so.

A few years ago, Canadians from coast to coast stood tall and proud and in what I’d describe as being morally, ethically and virtually just, as our federal government program was to send cheap drugs to poor countries. I soon held my head in shame the same way I did at Ben Johnson’s drug scandal at the Olympics when I learned that not one pill had been sent. Why? We were told that public and private technocrats offer a multitude of technical justifications so convincing, that not even the NDP followed up and the subject was dropped.

Our modern Canada should not be seeing health care as an incomprehensible problem. We need to commence the process of removing most if not all of the obvious barriers, the shortages of doctors, nurses, beds, and certainly operating rooms. For almost 20 years our government leaders at all levels of all stripes have denied the core problem and have permitted various government agencies, universities and medical associations to from improving the system. Only how, at the rocket speed of a snail’s pace, and throwing nickels around as though hey were manhole covers, are these groups moving in what could still can be described as fully uncoordinated, for their release on power has yet to be challenged. However, in what university students in years to come will study as a cornerstone in delay tactics, fear mongering and backroom commerce/profiteering, they are pretending that the problem lies with single-tier system and its unfairness to Canadians.

In his book, A Fair Country, John Ralston Saul offers insight into the hospital crises now and the larger devastation that awaits us down the road. In 1991, conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney appointed Drs. Barer and Stoddart to review the present and future of services in medical care to Canadians. This report was based solely on saving money and not on providing services, recommended a 10-percent reduction in post-graduate medical training and a reduction in our use of foreign-trained doctors. This changed the ratio of medical care to 2.1 doctors per 1,000 Canadians, which dropped us below Western countries. A similar policy change was implanted on nursing. To add insult to injury, the Mulroney Conservatives, in an act that can only be described as ruthless, cut and then froze the number of hospital beds. To ensure that these draconian practices would harm as many as possible, the final shoe was dropped and these protectors of our well-being retracted the funding that cut the number of operating rooms. No longer seeing our health care as fair and bonheur, it was to be viewed as a make-more-money service business.

The rationale utilized to convince a trustworthy public was that doctors wanted more patients in order to make more money. Taking these drastic cuts on health care costs would mean more control, but it was harming the public’s well-being. The end result is the crisis we find ourselves in today: shortages of everything, including burned out doctors and nurses, and the much-promoted cost savings have disappeared to other federal government programs.

Next week, part 2.

Organizations: NDP, Mulroney Conservatives

Geographic location: Canada, Eastern Ontario, USA

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