Liepert promotes change, not closures

Health and Wellness Minister Ron Liepert brought to Ponoka message calling for health care change not hospital closures.

  • Jun. 1, 2009 9:00 a.m.
Good guys wear white: Health and Wellness Minister Ron Liepert selects a cowboy hat from the stack presented to him by Mayor Larry Henkelman.

Good guys wear white: Health and Wellness Minister Ron Liepert selects a cowboy hat from the stack presented to him by Mayor Larry Henkelman.

Liepert promotes change, not closures

By George Brown,

Ponoka News Editor

Health and Wellness Minister Ron Liepert brought to Ponoka last week a message calling for health care change not hospital closures.

Attending the Lacombe-Ponoka Progressive Conservative Association’s annual meeting on the heels of a leaked memo that threatened rural hospital closures, the minister was quick to make his position clear.

First things first:

“We have no plans to close rural hospitals,” Liepert said emphatically. “None.”

If that wasn’t clear enough: “Zero.”

The health minister shot from the lip, telling elected officials from across the constituency that if changes to local hospitals are ever considered they’ll be involved in the decision-making.

Friends of Medicare warned recently 10 hospitals in central Alberta could be downgraded to urgent care centres, long-term care centres and medical centres would also be closed. The action was suggested in a March 31 newsletter to medical staff from Alberta Health Services.

According to the health region’s memo, the following health care centres would be affected:

• Hospitals in Ponoka, Rimbey, Lacombe, Innisfail, Castor, Coronation, Consort, Sundre, Three Hills and Hanna would be downgraded to urgent care centres;

• Long-term care centres in Bentley, Trochu and Breton would be closed;

• Health centres in Trochu and Castor would be closed.

The newsletter refers to a capital master plan that forecasts the physical building needs of the former David Thompson Regional Health Authority to 2035.

Liepert said that during the course of brainstorming, consultants studying options for the delivery of health care “should be putting forth all kinds of ideas.

But he stressed that the report “ never even got to the former David Thompson Health Region board to reject” because the government dissolved regional health authorities and created the Alberta health Services superboard.

Liepert warned the crowd of party faithful not to overreact and put too much stock in “every stupid attempt” the opposition parties and the “Enemies of Medicare” put forward just to get free television time.

“Will health care facilities across the province deliver services in a different way, in some cases, five or 10 years from now? Absolutely.

“We’ve got to ensure that as we go forward, health care in your community is delivered in a way that meets the needs of your community.

“We realize that when you put an ‘H’ on the side of a building there are certain expectations around that.”

Liepert said there must be changes in the delivery of services if the health care system is to grow with society and changing demographics but he pledged if there are to be any “substantial changes” to what smaller towns enjoy now, there will be community consultations and the changes would have to have the blessing of the MLA.

The government’s plans for health care are outlined in the Vision 2020 document, Liepert said. “We have to change the culture of how we think about health care and how we deliver health care.

And that doesn’t mean going to an American-style two-tiered health care system, which he said is actually more costly than the Canadian model.

“Why would we do that? We have an outstanding health care system in this country but we need to ensure we do a better job of getting access to it.”

The government and health care providers have to educate the public that they don’t have to see a doctor or visit an emergency room to seek treatment, Liepert explained. Health Link and pharmacists can often prescribe the proper course of treatment, freeing up a doctor’s time for serious cases.

Liepert said the various levels of health care, such as a doctor’s office, the hospital emergency department, acute care and long-term care must be aligned to realize efficiencies. An April 1, after years of false starts, municipal ambulance systems in Alberta were merged into the provincial health care system.

“If health care were an engine and all the gears had to turn in sync with everything else, I would bet in maybe three seconds it would be this bunch of grinding mess of metal because nothing seems to work in sync.”

Likening the health care system to the bankrupt auto sector, Liepert said the health care model must change with the times or fail.

“We can continue to throw money at health care and get the same results or we can take a step back and say we need to change the fundamental model of health care and get better results for the same dollars.

“If GM gores broke we can buy a Toyota or a Hyundai. If Air Canada goes broke we can fly WestJet but if our public health care system goes broke, what’s the option? American-style private health care.”

Questions for the minister

Lacombe Mayor Judy Gordon, a former MLA, told Liepert that when rumours of rural hospital closures first circulated, residents were shocked and afraid of the consequences. Small towns are already suffering with hospitals bed closures and a lack of doctors.

“If we lose them (doctors) again, it will be tough to get them back,” she said.

Dr. Brendan Bunting, a physician in Ponoka for 30 years, said it was “very alarming” that the rumour of hospital closures came out of nowhere. In the old days, when there were municipal hospital boards, and even after regionalization, elected hospital trustees communicated with the public.

Now with one Alberta Health Services board, trustees are “more remote and there seems less opportunity for members of the public to have input into any sort of decision-making,” Bunting said.

Community health councils (CHC) are a good tool to disseminate health care ideas, he added

Liepert admitted his department needs to communicate better with Albertans but he side-stepped the issue of the importance of CHCs. He said changes are proposed for the make-up and role of CHCLiepert promotes change, not closures

By George Brown,

Ponoka News Editor

Health and Wellness Minister Ron Liepert brought to Ponoka last week a message calling for health care change not hospital closures.

Attending the Lacombe-Ponoka Progressive Conservative Association’s annual meeting on the heels of a leaked memo that threatened rural hospital closures, the minister was quick to make his position clear.

First things first:

“We have no plans to close rural hospitals,” Liepert said emphatically. “None.”

If that wasn’t clear enough: “Zero.”

The health minister shot from the lip, telling elected officials from across the constituency that if changes to local hospitals are ever considered they’ll be involved in the decision-making.

Friends of Medicare warned recently 10 hospitals in central Alberta could be downgraded to urgent care centres, long-term care centres and medical centres would also be closed. The action was suggested in a March 31 newsletter to medical staff from Alberta Health Services.

According to the health region’s memo, the following health care centres would be affected:

• Hospitals in Ponoka, Rimbey, Lacombe, Innisfail, Castor, Coronation, Consort, Sundre, Three Hills and Hanna would be downgraded to urgent care centres;

• Long-term care centres in Bentley, Trochu and Breton would be closed;

• Health centres in Trochu and Castor would be closed.

The newsletter refers to a capital master plan that forecasts the physical building needs of the former David Thompson Regional Health Authority to 2035.

Liepert said that during the course of brainstorming, consultants studying options for the delivery of health care “should be putting forth all kinds of ideas.

But he stressed that the report “ never even got to the former David Thompson Health Region board to reject” because the government dissolved regional health authorities and created the Alberta health Services superboard.

Liepert warned the crowd of party faithful not to overreact and put too much stock in “every stupid attempt” the opposition parties and the “Enemies of Medicare” put forward just to get free television time.

“Will health care facilities across the province deliver services in a different way, in some cases, five or 10 years from now? Absolutely.

“We’ve got to ensure that as we go forward, health care in your community is delivered in a way that meets the needs of your community.

“We realize that when you put an ‘H’ on the side of a building there are certain expectations around that.”

Liepert said there must be changes in the delivery of services if the health care system is to grow with society and changing demographics but he pledged if there are to be any “substantial changes” to what smaller towns enjoy now, there will be community consultations and the changes would have to have the blessing of the MLA.

The government’s plans for health care are outlined in the Vision 2020 document, Liepert said. “We have to change the culture of how we think about health care and how we deliver health care.

And that doesn’t mean going to an American-style two-tiered health care system, which he said is actually more costly than the Canadian model.

“Why would we do that? We have an outstanding health care system in this country but we need to ensure we do a better job of getting access to it.”

The government and health care providers have to educate the public that they don’t have to see a doctor or visit an emergency room to seek treatment, Liepert explained. Health Link and pharmacists can often prescribe the proper course of treatment, freeing up a doctor’s time for serious cases.

Liepert said the various levels of health care, such as a doctor’s office, the hospital emergency department, acute care and long-term care must be aligned to realize efficiencies. An April 1, after years of false starts, municipal ambulance systems in Alberta were merged into the provincial health care system.

“If health care were an engine and all the gears had to turn in sync with everything else, I would bet in maybe three seconds it would be this bunch of grinding mess of metal because nothing seems to work in sync.”

Likening the health care system to the bankrupt auto sector, Liepert said the health care model must change with the times or fail.

“We can continue to throw money at health care and get the same results or we can take a step back and say we need to change the fundamental model of health care and get better results for the same dollars.

“If GM gores broke we can buy a Toyota or a Hyundai. If Air Canada goes broke we can fly WestJet but if our public health care system goes broke, what’s the option? American-style private health care.”

Questions for the minister

Lacombe Mayor Judy Gordon, a former MLA, told Liepert that when rumours of rural hospital closures first circulated, residents were shocked and afraid of the consequences. Small towns are already suffering with hospitals bed closures and a lack of doctors.

“If we lose them (doctors) again, it will be tough to get them back,” she said.

Dr. Brendan Bunting, a physician in Ponoka for 30 years, said it was “very alarming” that the rumour of hospital closures came out of nowhere. In the old days, when there were municipal hospital boards, and even after regionalization, elected hospital trustees communicated with the public.

Now with one Alberta Health Services board, trustees are “more remote and there seems less opportunity for members of the public to have input into any sort of decision-making,” Bunting said.

Community health councils (CHC) are a good tool to disseminate health care ideas, he added

Liepert admitted his department needs to communicate better with Albertans but he side-stepped the issue of the importance of CHCs. He said changes are proposed for the make-up and role of CHCs but he didn’t say what they are.

The government is expected later this month to reduce the number of CHCs from 56 to nine, based on the territory of the old health regions. The Alberta Health Services board would appoint all the members.