The ongoing problems with the Alberta health care system, the recent or not-so-recent, emergency room crisis and MLA Dr. Raj Sherman’s frustration with the politics of health care in Alberta, suggest several questions to me.
If the health care system is overwhelmed at times, who are the people accessing the health care system most frequently and why is this happening?
The answer to that question has been known for a while. It is those who struggle to survive, people who have little financial or material resources; for the most part, the same people who struggle in the school system and exit early, typically working poor people, who despite two jobs are still below the poverty line. I heard a report recently that 80 per cent of poor people are single mothers trying to raise their children. Poverty is the one clear indicator of poor health and early death.
In an interesting combined federal/provincial project in Dauphin, Man. from 1975 to 1980, people’s income in that community was topped off above the poverty line. Despite the loss of a job or poor farming income they could survive on a living income. The results of the project were interesting. Poverty disappeared, arrests went down and so did hospital admissions; fewer people were incarcerated and school dropout rates decreased. There were significant savings on the part of community services. People were empowered enough by the support they received that significantly fewer dysfunctional behaviours occurred, including an improvement in their health status.
I watched a YouTube presentation by Hugh Segal, a Progressive Conservative senator in Ottawa, speak on this subject. His closing comment was that poverty in this province and this country will make us bankrupt; we can’t afford it. Health is not a separate issue from quality of life and income.
We need to step beyond the silos that limit our vision to recognize that childcare, education, income, health and healthy behaviour are all connected. We might know this stuff instinctively. The question is how to we make our elected representatives act upon it.
Google “poverty and health” for more information.