Is Alberta’s healthcare system still worth defending?
As Mayor Nenshi once said about Alberta Health Services employees, these people perform miracles every day. I too have, for many years, been a staunch defender of universal healthcare and the virtues of our healthcare system and its people. However, something significant has changed.The decline has been slow but steady. I started to see it while helping my mother through a terminal illness eight years ago; and the observations continue as we deal with my elderly father’s health issues.

Three weeks ago, my sister and I took our 83-year-old dad to a hospital emergency department following a fall with a badly swollen left hand and very sore left chest area. After an eight hour wait in various areas of the ER, and having told his story at least 4 times to various healthcare professionals, we were advised that a CT scan showed he hadn’t broken anything but there were suspicious masses in the rectal area and upper right lung. So began the various appointments and tests to follow up the suspicious masses. And three weeks later we are back in ER with dad, who was having pain in his sternum and trouble breathing after eating.

Long story short… two invasive rectal procedures and three lung scans within three weeks to find out 1) we still aren’t sure if he has cancer and 2) four of his ribs were in fact broken, even though they told us during the first visit that they weren’t. Imagine how we feel now after we downplayed his pain for 3 weeks only to find out that he wasn’t being melodramatic.

There are some truly wonderful people in our health care system. Those people shine like stars because there are many who don’t appear to care. I would be the first to say that working in a hospital, especially in ER, is a difficult job and I couldn’t do it. But if you choose to work in our healthcare system, in any capacity, then please do it with care and competence.

Our emergency rooms are disorganized and dirty. During the last two visits to ER with my dad I observed lost charts (many), lost people, rude and impatient nurses, patronizing doctors, and what appears to be a lack of transparency and accountability. I am well aware that a triage environment is difficult to control but I know from my own work experience that updated technology, consistent training, clear (and enforced) expectations, and a higher level of transparency (without jeopardizing privacy) would go a long way towards improving the process and morale for both patients and workers.

This part I hate to write because it pains me to admit. Too many times I’ve observed healthcare workers wasting time chatting and meandering. I don’t mean the ‘how are you doing’ kinds of exchanges that are critical to productive working relationships, or careful movement to minimize risk of injury. I mean a lot of standing around the desk, in clear view of waiting patients, having long personal conversations. I mean painfully slow moving individuals emptying garbage. I mean very unsanitary practices related to wiping down areas that made me want to immediately go home and shower. And last but not least, very inefficient systems that waste time and money (how many CT scans for the same thing and how many times in one visit do I have to recount his story and list the numerous medications he’s on?).

I now believe that having the convenient excuse of ‘we are a triage environment’ lessens accountability and transparency for those who view this very important work as just a job. Those of you who are committed and caring healthcare workers know what I am talking about, but maybe are not in a position to ‘rat out’ your coworkers.

So I’ve started asking around, and the stories of negative hospital experiences abound. A second cousin whose husband battled cancer for over seven years has a myriad of nightmarish stories ending with the one where he died, not of cancer, but of an infection. My realtor who observed a cleaner in his hospital room wipe the table where he eats with the same cloth she used to wipe the bathroom. My son whose room was directly across the nurse’s station and was able to observe the complete lack of work ethic of some of the workers. The list goes on.

Where is the leadership and accountability in this precious system? While we are wasting money on infinite reviews and studies and changing board structures, the decline continues. This problem can’t be fixed within because those who are in the system are not necessarily the best people to see the possibilities.

“The PCs have created a crisis in health care – anyone who’s stepped into an ER lately can tell you that,” said Notley. “Albertans deserve a government with the right priorities, the right values, and the right vision to build the healthcare system that our growing province needs.

My hope now is that a new provincial government that purports to put people first will actually do so.

Sandra Falconi