Health care reform claims blur the lessons of history

by Ken MacDougall

Last week I noted the hypocrisy of Saskatchewan Party claiming for the third election in a row that the Romanow NDP government had “closed 52 hospitals”, without offering clarification of any sort. I believe that they are relying on the emotional “shock” of this statement, but even if this is a well-spun “fact”, what has the government done in the last eleven years in power to remedy any damage this might have done to health care delivery in the province?

The answer: “Nothing at all.”

I still remember some of the heated discussions on health care my relatives from the Canora – Preeceville corridor undertook. Even in the 1950’s, Saskatchewanians considered access to quality health care to be a right of citizenry; the problem was how to make that happen, especially with a world-wide shortage of trained physicians.

Back then, the agricultural community was prepared to settle for the hiring of doctors capable of treating the battlefield scars of farm work and family health concerns. So, as incentive to a complex recruiting process, local communities would build their edifices to the specifications required for the treatment of injuries and services, and in their advertising referred to these new buildings as “hospitals”, all in the hope of luring some doctor to come settle nearby, and perhaps even stay long enough to have a grateful community eventually name a street after them.

One should note that my relatives did not assume that these they could do much more than be competent in the treatment of broken bones, runny noses of their myriad offspring, and the safe delivery of the next addition to their continuously growing families.

Having provided consulting services to medical practitioners from 1986 to 2000, I never met a single physician who wasn’t painfully aware of the limitations of his or her training – and that respect for such skill level was in turn generally shared by their patients. In the end, this doctor-patient “trust” factor cemented a community in its intent of looking after one another – another factor that came to fruition in the evolution of our provincial medical model.

Given these factors, it completely baffles me that a political party, in this case the Descendants of Devine, is able to garner public support for a lie – the “closing” of a hospital, as opposed to its renaming according to its true stature within any community.
The Devine government was, in fact, aware that if rural medical practices were not rationalized vey soon, Saskatchewan taxpayers would pay a heavy financial toll for that delay. Their decision to cease plans for the integration of the newly constructed Regina Plains hospital into south-central and Regina regional health care needs at least indicates such awareness, a decision made on the basis of “safety” concerns, these being the presence of asbestos in its walls. Still, over the past eight years local Saskatchewan Party MLAs have simply omitted “cause” in self-righteous proclamation of the NDP having “closed” Prince Albert’s second hospital – for the same reason as concerned the Plains. Additionally, over the past fifteen years, similar contaminant has also had to be removed from Saskatoon’s Royal University Hospital; fortunately, the asbestos fiber presence there could be worked around.

Over the past ten years, the government has often claimed success in everything from reducing waiting times for surgical procedures to having substantially increased the number of doctors practising in the province. Nothing could be further from the truth; thousands of Saskatchewanians still must rely upon “McDoctor” walk-in clinics for basic health care, as they are unable to find access to family practice.

Some twenty years later, we’re still trying to deal with the effects of the 1990’s Barer-Stoddart report recommending a 10% cutback in its funded physician-education programs. In actuality, general practitioner training was reduced by almost 25%, as the Mulroney government simultaneously decided to prioritize specialist training, in fields that also required longer periods of educational training and practicum. Over the years the government has experimented with programs that encourage graduating physicians from our universities to take up practice here, including “stay at home” forgiveness of student loan debt for every year of service to the province. Still, we are still losing qualified candidates to the more lucrative markets of the United States, AND we’re still having to “recruit” practitioners from elsewhere in the world in order to provide bare necessity medicine to rural Saskatchewan.
And so it goes.

It may seem baffling to explain, but it has taken the Saskatchewan Party less than two decades to turn back the state of provincial health care reform by almost fifty years. Health care costs are once again rising, and despite being in the middle of a pandemic, we again find ourselves lacking qualified medical practitioners, particularly in the area of mental health. Meanwhile, buoyed by federal monies flowing into the province thanks to a federal NDP pressing the Trudeau minority into dealing with the economic hardships this pandemic has imposed, we now find ourselves with a government more concerned with building hospital monuments to its “achievements in medicine”, yet having no idea as to how to slow down the spread of Covid, particularly in the generation that accounts for almost 75% of this virus’s casualties.

Premier Moe’s leadership deficiencies are of his party’s own making. They’ve played to the fringe elements of their basis. Add that to the support from every voter suffering from Turdeay Syndrome hatred and you end up with a vituperative voter base turning Premier Moe gutless whenever a hard decision, especially when dealing with the COVID spread, has to be made.

NDP leader Ryan Meili is not the kind of person to say “I told you so” when the leadership debate’s final question on budgetary concerns had the media chuckling over how the premier’s “cautious approach to keeping businesses open” trumped Dr. Meili’s warnings as to the signs we were already seeing as to the virus spread becoming increasingly difficult to control. But there stood Premier Moe, confident that his “good friend”, Saskatchewan chief medical officer Dr. Saqib Shahab, would make the “correct” decision should further restrictions on citizen movement and fraternization be required.

In every other province in Canada, Alberta excepted, such a decision to curtail economic activity is one made by the premier, in consultation with his Cabinet and medical specialists – but not here?

And so, when during the week of December 11th, Dr. Shahab made that decision on behalf of the government. Come Saturday, there stood in front of the Legislature an “anti-mask convoy/rally” of anti-Trudeau creation deliberately mispronouncing Dr. Shahab’s name, while calling down in the most ignorant of anti-immigrant tones the doctors who’d come from all over the world to fulfil our medical practitioner needs, but were now using that “power” to control the freedoms of Saskatchewan’s “preferred” residents.

Who with a right mind in Saskatchewan could NOT have predicted such a response?