March 31st, 2020

Importance of the front line


By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on March 24, 2020.

Value of public health system has never been more apparent

Mike Parker

PRESIDENT, HEALTH SCIENCES ASSOCIATION

OF ALBERTA

As Alberta deals with the COVID-19 pandemic, an important word is making a comeback – public.

When asked how it is Alberta is conducting more tests than other jurisdictions, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health talks about the “tremendous work” front-line public health teams have done to enhance capacity.

When the premier announced a half billion dollars for the COVID-19 response, he said Alberta’s public health workers are doing an “outstanding job” and the money is meant to support them with whatever they need. Even our combative health minister is routinely praising the “incredible” work being done on the front line.

As more and more Albertans practise social distancing and self-isolation, our public health-care workers are doing the opposite. Our job is to be there when Albertans are sick, to help them recover. Our patients and our clients have always been our number-one priority.

Never has the “front line” meant more for the health of Albertans than it does right now.

We are the highly trained, professional and dedicated health workers on the front line.

The public system is set up for exactly this type of situation. It’s staffed, equipped, regulated, operated and maintained to make sure we are ready for these types of pandemics.

But ambulances don’t go into a home with a suspected COVID-19 patient inside to administer a test. Machines don’t prepare samples to see if you have the virus. It isn’t a robot that stands at a scared patient’s side and offers treatment and comfort.

It’s Meaghan, the paramedic; Janet and Evan, the lab techs; and Terry, the nurse. They are your friends and neighbours. It’s important we keep them healthy. That’s why they need protective equipment and to take caution with procedures. What some call “red tape” are regulations to keep our health-care workers safe so that we can provide the care you need.

That’s why it rubs us the wrong way that our government rammed through a budget that hurts us. We are here to provide excellent public health care for all Albertans, and we worry when we see a plan that includes cuts and privatization. The budget cuts funding for public health care. It does not account for inflation. It does not account for population growth. And it includes the siphoning of hundreds of millions of dollars from the public system to private providers.

On the day I’m writing this, Alberta has run 12,400 tests to 11,200 in Ontario. At the same time politicians are praising our workers for their work, they are working behind the scenes looking for ways to privatize them. Private labs in the U.S. are currently charging insured people hundreds of dollars to test for COVID-19. People who don’t have insurance are paying thousands. A privatized system must, by definition, turn a profit. We believe that every dollar the public spends on health care in Alberta should go to patient care, not for profits.

A health-care crisis such as this pandemic should prove to all Albertans once and for all how valuable a universal publicly paid, administered and delivered health care system is. Now is not the time to be eroding public health. We should be paying attention to the lessons being learned. A strong public health system is our best line of defence.

Now is the time to recognize the great value that is our public health system and the people who serve in it. This virus doesn’t discriminate based on income and neither should our health-care system.

Now is the time to be caring for everyone, including the health workers who risk it all, every day, for Albertans.

Because health matters. To all of us.

Mike Parker is an Advance Care Paramedic and the president of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta which represents nearly 28,000 frontline, dedicated healthcare professionals.

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