April 12th, 2024

Friends of Medicare AGM leaves little unsaid about privatized health care

By Theodora MacLeod - Lethbridge Herald Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on September 22, 2023.

Herald photo by Theodora MacLeod Friends of Medicare executive director Chris Gallaway speaks this week in Lethbridge.

“We’re grannies and we’re really raging,” sang a group of four women dressed in red hats and eye-catching aprons.

Why the rage? The threat of privatization of health care in Alberta.

“Oh, bring back the health care we need,” they lamented on Wednesday at the Friends of Medicare annual general meeting held in the community room of the Lethbridge Public Library.

The Grannies, however, were not the only ones expressing their displeasure with the state of health care in Alberta.

In a talk titled “Health Care Privatization Schemes are Failing Before Our Eyes,” executive director of Friends of Medicare, Chris Gallaway, spoke to a small crowd of around 20 people about the issues of access to care Albertans are experiencing.

“Every single day in this province, at least 30 hospital or health care centres have temporary closures happening. Whether it’s emergency rooms, acute care beds, or obstetrics – almost everywhere it seems- it’s everywhere and it’s all rooting in staffing issues,” Gallaway explained.

In a report evaluating Alberta Health Services titled COVID-19 in Continuing Care Facilities released by the Auditor General in February 2023, it was found that in the early months of 2020, 59 per cent of care aids were part-time or casual workers, and of all the staff at long term care facilities, only 15 per cent were full-time employees. According to Gallaway, those part time and casual workers have no benefits or sick leave. “Work conditions are care conditions; we all know that” he says.

“What’s happening is we’re in a staffing crisis and there’s no leadership to do anything about fixing it from our provincial government, and we’re feeling it most in our rural places right now, rural areas, but it’s everywhere.” Gallaway believes that many of the issues facing the health care system are intentionally mismanaged by the government to pave way for more privatization, that by letting the system fail the government can present privatization as the key to fix the issues.

“Lethbridge kind of encapsulates all of the issues we’re seeing in the province. It’s a major centre, one of the biggest cities in the province and there are still not enough of doctors.”

He says the rural hospital closures force people to use facilities in the city which only further impacts wait times.

“If we can’t get it right here, where are we going to get it right?”

The talk also touched on the opioid crisis and overdose deaths throughout the province.

According to information obtained from the Government of Alberta’s health analytics website, so far in 2023 an average of five people die from an overdose every day in the province.

“Housing is healthcare,” Gallaway states, believing that the barriers of accessing safe and affordable housing play a significant role in the increase of addiction and overdose deaths.

Friends of Medicare is a non-profit advocacy organization with chapters throughout the province. They believe health care must be public, accessible, and free.

Much like them, the Raging Grannies are an organization advocating for improvement in social change. Founded in British Columbia they now have chapters throughout Canada and the United States, and use songs to protest perceived injustice, and are a common sight at local political events.

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