Health care is an emotional issue for Albertans. Conventional wisdom says politicians shouldn’t touch the subject other than to offer meaningless platitudes and promise more money.
Well, the Wildrose Party is not going to do that. Health care is too important.
The fact is Alberta’s health care system is broken. Despite massive annual increases in health spending, waiting lists for critical procedures continue to grow. Once patients gain access to the system, our doctors and nurses generally provide excellent service. However, being forced to wait months or years for access to needed treatments is not health care - it’s a prison sentence that thousands of Albertans suffer through each day.
Alberta’s health care system can be fixed. But it cannot be fixed by repeating the same flawed strategies and expecting different results. Instead, we need to look at innovative ways to deliver health care within a publicly administered and publicly funded system. This brings us to Calgary’s privately-operated Health Resource Centre.
As has been reported, HRC is in receivership and must sort out liabilities owed to its creditors in order to continue operating. Predictably, the usual left-wing critics like the Friends of Medicare and the other opposition parties have pointed to this as an example of the pitfalls of private delivery. That’s simply not the case.
The reason why HRC is in receivership is due to the government, once again, ripping up an agreement with a private business.
The facts of this case are yet to be determined in court, however, HRC’s version of events is as follows. Prior to the government’s centralization of Alberta health care, the Calgary Health Region contracted with HRC to perform approximately 1,000 hip and knee replacements each year. The Calgary Health Region, impressed with the efficiency and quality of those surgeries, committed to increase the number to 3,500 per year. To prepare for this expansion and in consultation with the Calgary Health Region, HRC contracted to lease a newly constructed state-of-the-art surgery centre. When Alberta Health Services took over in 2008, it delayed providing HRC with the increase in surgeries. As a result, HRC became unable to pay the lease on the new facility and was forced into receivership.
Alberta Health Services has now decided to terminate its relationship with HRC altogether. This is unacceptable. HRC doesn’t need a taxpayer bailout. All it needs is for the government to honour the agreement it made with HRC to increase its surgeries to 3,500 a year. If that happens, HRC will have no problem paying the lease for its expanded centre and can successfully exit receivership. If it doesn’t happen, our province will lose our best performing orthopaedic surgical centre.
HRC is the best. According to the Alberta Bone and Joint Institute, patients receiving knee and hip replacements should spend, on average, no more than four days in hospital. At HRC, the average stay is three days - by far the lowest of any facility in the province.
In fact, if every public hospital in Alberta performed at the standard of HRC, it would save Albertans millions of dollars in health costs. Better yet, it would free up hospital beds so orthopaedic surgeons could perform thousands of additional hip and knee replacements each year.
What critics seem to forget is HRC is a privately-run clinic that performs publicly-insured services. Patients are taken as they are referred to HRC from Alberta Health Services. There is no cream-skimming of the easiest cases or queue jumping for faster service. It is no different than the way family medicine works. Family doctors generally work out of private clinics and are paid using public funds. There is no reason why HRC and other private surgical centres should be viewed differently. Albertans want to receive needed medical treatments as quickly as possible – they don’t care whether their doctors work out of public, private or non-profit facilities.
The Wildrose Party supports a universal, publicly-funded health care system. The ability to pay should not determine who receives treatment. However, we also believe our current health system is inaccessible, inefficient and leaves thousands of Albertans in pain and at risk. HRC has demonstrated a model of care that is proven to reduce waiting lists, improve patient outcomes and lower costs to taxpayers without compromising universal access. If we want to fix our public health system, we need many more HRCs, not less.