When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful
By Annamarie A. Fuchs, Creator. Partners in Health | Conversations.
I haven’t written in awhile and for good reason. In early June we were enjoying a gorgeous weekend at our lake property in east central Alberta. We had just launched a game of badminton on the grass when, in my effort to appear younger and nimbler than I apparently am, I lunged for the birdie and lost my footing.
My elbow struck the ground in front of me, taking my right shoulder and upper arm on a joy ride. Two hours later, after a mad dash 25 km down the highway to the nearest rural hospital, I was diagnosed with a dislocated shoulder and a fracture of the humeral head. It’s called an avulsion fracture and I can assure you that it’s painful. I remain in a sling four weeks later and while I can write a bit for my work as a consultant, my endurance has been considerably limited.
On that Sunday afternoon while I tried to cope with relentless pain during the investigations needed to diagnose the problem, reduce the dislocation, and stabilize the arm, I was reminded about why we have rural healthcare centers staffed by caring physicians, nurses, and technologists scattered across Alberta. I am also reminded of how incredibly essential our health system is to all of us and why we should be fighting harder to preserve it and to demand new and innovative investment.
When we arrived at the hospital, we were met by a nursing attendant who was kind and sympathetic. She quickly recognized that I was in tough shape and called the emergency department. Within moments someone came to retrieve me. Once I was gently evaluated by the emergency physician who was going off duty, I was taken to diagnostic imaging for X-rays. An incredibly compassionate X-ray technologist called one of the nurses to assist him while he secured the images he needed without once having to move my arm. Within minutes the physician who arrived for the evening shift explained that I had both a dislocation and a fracture. Shortly thereafter they reduced the dislocation under conscious sedation, and I was sent home with pain medication and my arm in a sling. I can’t imagine how much more difficult that day would have been if we hadn’t had access to a nearby rural hospital staffed by wonderfully competent, committed, and caring professionals.
Like the rest of the world, Albertans have been muddling through a pandemic for the past 16 months. Our health care professionals have literally performed as superheroes. And yet a mere 7 days after many restrictions were lifted in this province, the current government announced that they intend to ask the United Nurses of Alberta to take wage roll backs. Seriously? The unbelievably tone-deaf approach that this government has taken from the beginning with regard to how they might address the mounting costs of health care in Alberta is astounding to me. I was recently speaking with a young family physician who is exhausted and disillusioned.
“I didn’t go into this profession to make money” she explained. “I wanted to work with people, and I wanted to be a healer. But I didn’t expect that my ability to make an income would be stripped by nearly 60%. I didn’t think that my own government would go on the attack against family physicians when we were willing to negotiate right from the beginning. And, when I think of the costs associated with running this little clinic, I have to ask what this government is thinking. Is anyone who understands the complexities of this system advising these people?”
What we have seen take place over the last 2 years to be perfectly blunt is disgraceful. Alberta’s integrated Primary Care Network model has been evolving since its inception in 2003 and in my opinion, we have about the best system in the country – for now. PCN leaders and clinicians have learned over the years how to consistently deliver excellent primary care to almost every Albertan while contributing to cost reductions, improved efficiencies, and improved patient experience. And with investment, that model could enable even greater savings and efficiencies. But to devalue health professionals when they are already burned out or to single out Registered Nurses and Family Physicians as if they hold the keys to correcting our financial woes in healthcare is stunningly naïve and frankly dangerous. If successful, this government’s actions will no doubt set us back a generation and deeply hurt Albertans while destroying the improvements that have taken a generation to establish and to maintain. Ask any health system expert and you’ll learn how savings can be found while still preserving the great strides we have made in healthcare in this province. Ask any strategist or clinician for that matter and they’ll tell you that primary care, mental health, and accessible emergency care are essential to enable the continued health and safety of our citizens. And yet when I had dinner with a government official nearly two years ago and was told “I don’t need to know about health care to cut costs” I had a pretty good idea what was coming.
So here we are. Family Physicians have been engaged in a battle for their survival for two years. Registered Nurses are now being asked to take wage rollbacks. Other services are in jeopardy while others such as mental health and addictions remain grossly underfunded. So, what are we going to do about it? This is our system in fact. It’s purpose is to serve and protect the health and wellness of the Albertans whose taxes contribute to that system. Do we expect access to a stable health care system in this province? Do we expect that we should be able to count on receiving excellent care for ourselves and our loved ones when it’s needed?
If so, then we need to make our voices heard. During this pandemic which by the way is nowhere near over, health professionals have gone to the mat to ensure access to basic services while caring for those who have become ill from COVID-19. Hundreds of physicians, nurses, and other health professionals staff vaccination clinics and assessment centers while dozens if not hundreds of physician leaders in this province put in long hours meeting their administrative obligations while continuing to work in clinical settings caring for patients.
Whether it was to correct a dislocated shoulder and stabilize a fractured arm on a Sunday afternoon or to remain at the bedsides of the thousands of Albertans who have succumbed to COVID-19, Alberta’s health professionals have been giving their best every day. Now it’s our turn to step up. It’s our turn to demand that this government take a more considered look at how to balance the budget while preserving the best of our health system and respecting those who are the backbone of that system. Email or call your MLA. Let them know what your concerns are and what you expect from them in terms of how our health system should be preserved. It’s up to you. You can choose to be part of the problem or part of the solution.