Editorial – No way to pick a fight

Jeff Burgar

We got lost in the numbers. You might also, so skip the next paragraph if big numbers bother you. Basically, it just adds up all the money our province spends on health care each year. It’s a lot!

According to a CBC News report, doctors sucked up almost one-quarter of Alberta’s health care budget in 2018-19. It was 23 per cent. Amounting to $5 billion.

In turn, the entire health care operating budget is $20.6 billion: or 42 per cent, almost half, of all the money the Alberta government spends in a year.

Got all that? Worded another way, doctors in Alberta take 10 cents of every dollar our government spends every year on operations. That isn’t new roads and bridges. It’s just on keeping the whole business of government on the go.

Now, before you go off the deep end, step back and think. If you are starting up a health service, say in southern Patagonia, how much money would you set aside for the doctors? 10 per cent? 20 per cent? Remember, these are the men and women who basically, do the work.

Nurses, administrators, janitors, equipment techs, snow shovellers, cooks, laundry folks and so many more are all important. But if you don’t have doctors, what’s the point of all the rest? Suddenly, 10 cents of a dollar doesn’t sound like a whole lot.

Except of course, it might be. If doctors are earning more in Alberta, but people are dying just as much as other provinces, then something might be wrong. If meals in Alberta hospitals cost twice what they cost in other provinces, something might be wrong.

In fact, if the funeral home business in Alberta is booming, but not so much in Ontario or Nova Scotia, one might say something is really wrong.

These are all issues and causes and happenings we members of the public hardly ever hear about. But, we do know Alberta spent $5,254 in Alberta, per person in 2018. That is more than every province except for Newfoundland – Labrador.

Since the days of premier Ralph Klein, health spending in Alberta is a concern. Action along the way, including the so-called Superboard, has included constant erosion of local authority. Which really means, local responsibility.

These days, wobbles in medical care leads straight to Edmonton and Premier Jason Kenney. Local and provincial politicians are essentially, a waste of skin and waste of time. Questions and complaints go up the ladder. Sometimes, answers or satisfaction never comes back down. The end result is, when Kenney decides to clamp down on expenses, or pick a fight with doctors, nurses, or even window washers in hospitals, local support will nowhere be found.

It’s long overdue to give up on the Superboard experiment. Then, it will take at least two years for new boards, new trustees, new and old faces, all to be brought into the fold. Then the real thinning of the weeds, bringing expenses under control, and in fact, actually improving our health care system, can really begin.

Such things in today’s environment are not even dreams.

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