September 25th, 2018

Public health care in Alberta should be governed locally by elected board

By Letter to the Editor on October 10, 2017.

The October election of trustees for school boards in Alberta underscores a significant gap in Alberta’s democratic institutions: our lack of elected, regional trustees to oversee public health care.

Currently, while Alberta Health (the ministry) makes policy, Alberta Health Services (AHS), South Zone (East), makes all operational decisions and runs public health care in our region. With the exception of the Medicine Hat Regional Hospital director, none of the top-tier AHS South Zone administrators live in Medicine Hat: they all live in Lethbridge. Alongside AHS is the Palliser Triangle Health Advisory Council (PTHAC), an appointed board for this region, operating as its name suggests: strictly in an advisory capacity. And while PTHAC does an admirable job within its limited scope, the council has very little ability to influence decisions or practices.

Why is an elected Palliser public health care board a desirable alternative to what we have currently? Economics and efficacy. A July 2017 Medicine Hat News article showcased the high salaries granted by our previous provincial government under what amounted to an abdication of stewardship. (Contracts that currently must be honoured). Yet were the current government in future to create elected boards of health care trustees, both levels of government — provincial and civic — would be accountable to the electorate to operate our system in an inclusive, cost-effective way, targeting funds to front-line workers where the bulk of the work gets done.

When we allow bureaucracies to self-govern, they generally do so in a manner most beneficial to themselves. Yet if administrators are beholden to elected overseers who, in turn, are accountable to the general public, people can reasonably expect a responsive, efficient system designed to meet the needs of voters.

Education and health care are the two costliest portfolios of the provincial government. Both deserve regional, democratic oversight. So you should vote for trustees in both.

Avril Torrence

Medicine Hat

(The writer is chair, Palliser Friends of Medicare)

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