New Democratic Party (NDP) health critic and MLA Edmonton-City Centre David Shepherd voiced concerns over the current United Conservative Party's (UCP) handling of health care in the province in an exclusive interview with AirdrieToday on July 26.
With the recent weekend evening closures of the Airdrie Urgent Care Centre (UCC), Airdronians are no strangers to revolving issues with the health care system, according to Shepherd.
Prior to the nightly closures as a result of a gap in physician coverage, the UCC was already facing operational challenges, such as a lack of space and long wait times.
The closing of the UCC means Airdrie residents are left without timely access to health care on weekend evenings. As a result, they must travel to surrounding neighbourhoods for assistance, putting additional pressure on Calgary and Rocky View County to support those in need of emergent care.
“This is not acceptable for Airdrie and we need to be taking direct action to support the Urgent Care Centre now,” Shepherd said in an interview.
He added lobbying in the Legislative Assembly is challenging because he is not present during healthcare negotiations, however, he is speaking out on the House floor as often as possible.
According to Shepherd, Airdronians and Albertans alike can help the fight for improved healthcare by contacting their local MLAs and health minister Jason Copping. He said one of the most powerful tools Airdrie residents have is the ability to share their own personal stories regarding the lack of urgent care in the city with local politicians.
"One of the most powerful things to cut through the noise and to help put pressure on [politicians] when we need to be taking action is to share the personal stories, the real impacts of people on the ground," Shepherd said.
A lack of physicians is an ache that is felt all across Alberta, Shepherd said. According to the health critic, over 25 hospitals or health care facilities are either partially or fully closed in the province due to a lack of health care workers.
Shepherd suggested this is occurring because of the relationship between the current Alberta government and health care staff.
“A big part of why we lack the physicians in Alberta is because [the UCP] government chose to attack and go to war with them in the spring of 2020 and they continued that throughout the pandemic and they are continuing that today,” he said.
As the COVID-19 virus began to spread across Canada, Shepherd said the Alberta government disregarded the contracts previously signed with health care workers and adjusted payment to the workers without consulting them.
To mend the relationship between the provincial government and health care workers, Shepherd believes there needs to be a relationship reset, starting with scrapping the legislation that allows the government to unilaterally discard employment contracts.
“A contract with only one side holding power is not a contract,” Shepherd said. “We need to address that issue and we need to build a collaborative relationship to put an agreement back in place.”
According to Shepherd, the current government has put politics ahead of public health. He added cutting of wages has led many Albertan health care workers to leave the province and seek employment elsewhere.
“This is a government that has not been collaborative in any sense. They’re interested in their own ends and don’t seem to be there for Albertans,” he said.
Shepherd suggested recruiting health care workers from outside of Alberta will help alleviate the staffing pressures felt across the province. However, workers need to feel enticed to relocate and he thinks an investment into health care will help make that possible.
“We are at a time of historic revenue in the province of Alberta [and] that doesn’t mean we should be spending like crazy,” he said. “[We must] recognize our lack of capacity in the health care system, that we are facing incredible challenges and indeed we are in crisis.
“Albertans may not be able to get the care they need when they need it [and] I think that is a reasonable argument that we need to make investments.”
Shepherd pointed out current government spending has decreased this year as compared to last year, despite the record high inflation rates felt across the country. The MLA also pointed out how population growth should lead to increased spending in health care to balance out the influx of new Albertans.
“We really have to restore balance to our system, respect for health care workers, and ensure they have the resources they need at the front line,” Shepherd said.