Thursday, March 8, 2007

Health Care: It's not about beds, stupid

Recent debates about health care reform in BC and Alberta raise some interesting issues. BC is talking about farming out more surgeries to private facilities for lack of SPACE in their hospitals. Alberta is building a new mega-hospital in the south end of Calgary to accommodate the region's growth. (This comes in addition to the new Children's Hospital they just built, after closing down the old one.)

I'm not wading into the privatization versus universality debate here. I see merits on both sides.

What is most concerning is the lack of knowledge about the real challenges facing the system. In most cases, regardless of the rate of growth in many cities like Calgary and Vancouver, THE MAIN ISSUE IS NOT ABOUT SHORTAGES OF BEDS. IT IS NOT ABOUT OPENING NEW HOSPITALS. IT IS NOT ABOUT RENTING MORE SPACE FROM PRIVATE CLINICS.

If you don't believe me, the next time you're at the hospital -- and goodness knows, with wait times the way they are, you'll have time to do this -- have a look around the wards. THERE ARE ENOUGH BEDS, JUST NOT ENOUGH DOCTORS AND NURSES. In many cases, entire hallways have been closed off -- beds and rooms effectively mothballed for lack of staff.

The problem is a shortage of healthcare professionals to staff these wards. Period.

(In my humble opinion, the #1 solution to the problem would be to move away from the fee for service structure embedded in our healthcare system. That would free up nurse practitioners, pharmacists and other professionals to perform the tasks they are trained to perform, alleviating stress on the system. The next step: train and certify more doctors and nurses to fill the positions currently left vacant. I'm sure there are others who disagree with me, but at least this is a good start.)

In the coming months, Manitobans are sure to hear debates over Doer's failed pledge to end "hallway medicine" in the upcoming provincial election. Thankfully, we don't hear the McFadyen Tories advocating the building of new hospitals the way BC Liberals and Alberta PC's are. Sure, Manitoba isn't facing the same growth problems as the other two provinces, but -- as in the other two provinces -- entire wards in the city, and entire hospitals in the country (e.g., Erickson), sit empty for lack of healthcare professionals to staff them.

Regardless of which side of the public/private debate you stand, please think twice when you hear politicians clamouring for increases in the number of beds and hospitals. Let's staff the ones we've got.


Anonymous said...

Exactly. You can't tell me it costs $900 million to renovate the old children's hospital in Calgary. The ultra-left is using the shortage of beds issue to criticize the right's lack of funding, and the ultra-right is using it as a springboard to 2-tier health care. Some perspective is needed.

DeepRedTory said...

I agree, if you're going to build a new hospital:
(1) tell us exactly why (is the old one falling apart?)
(2) tell us how you're going to fund it
(3) tell us how you're going to staff it

Is that so difficult?

Anonymous said...

Amen! I worked in the old Alberta Children's Hospital for a while and the facilities were perfectly adequate. Though I am sure the new one is very nice, I think that investing in more staff would be a much better way to improve patient care.