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Ralph Klein has gone and it is time to retire Ralph's World. Thanks to all of you who have supported this venture by contributing material and through your comments. It has been fun.

Should we get another blog underway? Let me know your thoughts by e-mailing me at johnnyslow@gmail.com.

John Slow
January 1, 2007

Monday, February 02, 2004

Black Health Hole 

When Premier Klein, at the first ministers’ conference, metaphorically referred to the lack of fiscal sustainability of our current health care system as a ‘black hole’, he was actually literally and figuratively summarizing his government’s dismantling and destruction of Alberta’s public system during the past decade.

The black hole metaphor literally describes what was left of the General Hospital that contained newer wings than the Foothills when it was imploded. With every replay of the footage the lack of foresight should cause government supporters to wince. Not content with the loss of one hospital, Calgary’s Conservative MLAs held fire sales for the Holy Cross that was sold for $9 million shortly after a $32 million upgrade and the Grace hospital which ranked among the best specialty service providing hospitals for women in Western Canada was practically given away to private interests. The current cost to replace just one of these prematurely closed facilities in South East Calgary is estimated to be in the $500 million range. To add further insult to injury this hospital is not scheduled to open until 2008. Prior to the most unnecessary closure of these hospitals the bed to patient ratio was 2.4/1000. Today the ratio sits at 1.7/1000, which is among the lowest of Canadian cities.

The closure of the hospitals, like the implosion of the General, produced a tremor or ripple effect. Diagnostic laboratories closed. With the closure of hospitals and labs, medical specialists were forced to look elsewhere for employment while the working conditions for those that remained became more frequently intolerable as the case loads increased. With half of the hospitals gone, ambulances took twice as long to pick up and deliver their patients. Yellow ambulance alerts have now become the norm in Calgary.

Instead of supporting the highly accountable and formerly transparent public system, the Alberta government increased its health care delivery costs by contracting out more expensive services and leasing rather than building needed facilities, which placed further strain on the budget. Despite promises to the contrary the Alberta government increased health care premiums by 30% resulting in an additional annual tax grab of $900 million. The most vulnerable Albertans, our fixed income seniors not only were forced to forfeit their medical coverage but saw what was left of their savings disappear when their long term care rent was increased by over 50%.

With all this additional income you would think that line-ups would be reduced, facilities upgraded, health care professionals would be attracted back by the booming Alberta economy but that has not been the case. Despite the 20% population growth in the past decade more hospitals and schools for that matter, have been closed than opened. Delaying renovations and repairs will ultimately lead to more costs to be borne in the future.

With a budget surplus rumoured to be approaching $7 billion by the end of this fiscal year as well as the $200 million transfer from the Federal government announced on Friday, January 30,2004 the Klein government has been given the chance to correct its past costly mistakes and reinvest in universal, transparent, accountable and sustainable public health care. If on the other hand it continues to undermine the system through further privatization in the form of contracting out or expensive P3 leases which the next generation will continue to pay for without ever owning, then Albertans should cut their losses in the next provincial election before the rest of their public investments disappear down that black hole of secrecy and mismanagement that Premier Klein described.

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