Alberta’s health care queue-jumping inquiry finds itself at a crucial fork in the road

Is Alberta’s queue-jumping inquiry a real inquiry, or a kabuki play, as above? We’ll know soon. Below: Alberta NDP leader Brian Mason on the steps of the Legislature … with a reference to Alberta Liberal Leader Raj Sherman in the background.

With the revelation earlier this week of systematic queue jumping involving a private medical clinic in Calgary, Alberta’s Health Care Preferential Treatment Inquiry has arrived at a critical fork in the road.

The credibility of the entire inquiry headed by retired justice John Vertes depends on whether it pursues the leads revealed in testimony about how the exclusive Helios Wellness Centre, for which clients are said to have paid $10,000 a year, managed to get its non-emergency patients jumped to the front of a long waiting list for a public colon cancer screening clinic.

Either the inquiry is a legitimate attempt to get to the bottom of accusations of line-jumping in Alberta’s health care system – called in response to claims by former Alberta Health Services CEO Stephen Duckett, physician and politician Raj Sherman and others that the practice was routine – or it is an expensive political kabuki drama whose goal is to obfuscate rather than illuminate.

If the inquiry does not take the time to properly examine the evidence that has now been revealed, as demanded in a letter yesterday to Mr. Vertes by Alberta NDP Leader Brian Mason, it will be hard to imagine that the inquiry is much more than a smoke screen for the real sins of Alberta’s Progressive Conservative government in health care.

There has always been a school of thought that that was that case – pushed with particular vigour by the Opposition Wildrose Party, which sits to the right of the right-wing government of Premier Alison Redford – and that the real topic of a health care inquiry should have been intimidation of medical professionals by health care system managers.

The suspicion that there might be something to this notion was hard to shake in the wake of day after day of testimony by senior health managers and former health officials barely able to remember their own names. At times it seemed as if “I can’t recall” was becoming the unofficial motto of Alberta. The whole affair seemed tightly scripted.

Then, unexpectedly, there were the testimony concerning Helios – which revealed that non-urgent patients referred by the private clinic to Calgary’s Forzani and MacPhail Colon Cancer Screening Centre, jointly run by Alberta Health Services and the University of Calgary Medical School out of a public hospital, were being fast-tracked for tests after waits of about three weeks, while other patients had to wait up to three years. Additional testimony yesterday revealed that some the line jumpers at the Forzani clinic were generous donors to the U of C.

While the media to date has concentrated on the Wildrose Party’s right-wing critique of the inquiry and largely ignored the NDP and the Alberta Liberals led by Dr. Sherman, one suspects the Wildrosers are not much more comfortable with this line of inquiry than the government must be. Just the same, Wildrose Seniors Critic Kerry Towle gamely seconded Mr. Mason’s call for more time to be devoted to the issue.

Still, the Wildrose Party would be the one that argues increasing privatization will make things better, not worse as Mr. Mason says, and if the inquiry does take this route it is unlikely to help much with the implementation of the Wildrose wish list.

So the NDP seems to own this issue for now, and it is much harder for the media to ignore the party as it has been doing.

The government has allowed medical businesses like Helios and the controversial Copeman Clinic to operate in this province, Mr. Mason said in his letter to Mr. Vertes, “and it is, therefore, crucial to get to the bottom of whether these clinics exist to provide their clients with expedited care.”

Like most of us who have observed the recent history of efforts by right-wing governments and businesses to increase privatization in health care in Alberta and Canada, Mr. Mason already knows the answer to that one – of course they do!

Nevertheless, if the inquiry exists to do what the government says it exists to do, Mr. Vertes can hardly deny Mr. Mason’s request to “allow an adequate amount of time to fully investigate and seek testimony from anyone who might have further knowledge of the practice that was uncovered in the testimony of this week.”

The inquiry has announced it would sit an extra seven days to hear testimony about its terms of reference – but not about the subject that really matters, which is now unavoidably before it.

“Should the commissioner reach the conclusion that an extension would be required in order to meet the terms of the mandate he has been given, he would direct a request to the minister of health for approval,” inquiry Executive Director Sheila-Marie Cook told media in an email that illustrates another problem with this inquiry – it’s not a real judicial inquiry and hence it’s not really independent of the government.

“The Order in Council which established the inquiry would then be amended to reflect any additional time that would be accorded,” her note concluded.

Well, either Mr. Vertes will do as Mr. Mason suggests, or Albertans’ cynicism about the process will appear to be completely justified.

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4 Comments on "Alberta’s health care queue-jumping inquiry finds itself at a crucial fork in the road"

  1. jerrymacgp says:

    One of the issues obscured in all of this is, why should anyone have to wait three years for a “routine” screening colonoscopy? This unpleasant yet essential test is a crucial procedure to detect early colon cancer in time to intervene while it is still eminently treatable, rather than waiting until it is symptomatic and therefore much too late to do anything useful about it. A three-year wait list suggests there is a serious problem with capacity in the system. A more reasonable wait time from the initial positive FOBT and referral from primary care should be no more than three months (four months could be acceptable, as an interim target).

  2. Sam Gunsch says:

    Possible question for the inquiry… from 2008

    re que-jumping with broken hips and current political parties.

    from Democracy in Alberta, Alberta Views, Jan./Feb. 2008 Issue,by John Ralston Saul

    2008 excerpt: “The simple question that seemed unaskeable at that time was – who needed the better hip? The Albertans who would use the hip to go to their offices and their golf-courses? Or the Albertans who worked on the drilling-rigs, the ranches, and the farms and who had lower incomes and would therefore not be able to afford a better hip?”

    re: money, access to healthcare, the public good, and whether Albertans will hear the right answer from current genuises in wildrose corporatist country.

    2008 excerpt:

    … the day on which Mr. Klein spoke out about the individual’s right to choice in hip-replacements. Of course, he said, Albertans all had the right to have hip-replacements on Medicare. But why would one take away from Albertans the choice to have a better quality hip-replacement if they could afford one? He presented this as if it were a matter of simple choice. A matter of individualism. Of course, it wasn’t a matter of choice. It was a matter of money.

    The simple question that seemed unaskeable at that time was – who needed the better hip? The Albertans who would use the hip to go to their offices and their golf-courses? Or the Albertans who worked on the drilling-rigs, the ranches, and the farms and who had lower incomes and would therefore not be able to afford a better hip? Surely those in need were those who worked for themselves, their families, and the better life of Alberta and Canada with their bodies. Their actual, physical bodies. They therefore needed the best hip available to get on and off their tractor, horse, rig.

    But somehow in the tortured reasoning of that time it was not possible for the province to reply to Mr. Klein that what he had said was an insult to the people.

    This was a sign of populism at its very worst. What is that? It is a man able to combine his hold on public power with his one personal talent – that of finding the emotional weak spot in all of us – to cause people to speak out against the interests of the public good in favour of some abstract theory of choice, which was really all about giving more to those who had more. That is the classic, historic genius of a populist.

    His cynical mindless era is over, but no new era has begun.”

    The old era’s agenda with new spots may in fact be strengthening based on content of the sunny wildrose country newspapers.

    Sam Gunsch

    • K. Larsen says:

      I agree that the Klein era agenda is strengthening. One of the more insidious aspects of this is the continual weakening of the independence of the judiciary.

      We see this in Alberta with the appointment of public spirited, well meaning, and committed former judges to what usually amount to whitewash panels.

      When these panels amount to little or nothing, as their political creators intend, the credibility of the whole judicial system is eroded a little bit further in the public mind and an important check and balance in our system is weakened.

      Couple this with the Harper regime’s defiance of the courts, and the prognosis is not encouraging.

  3. fal$e profit says:

    Dave, Duck-ett is just a little scorned. It was Raj that called out the cookie’s “knuckle headed” decision to take a way christmas perks to front line staff, like donuts and coffee, something that increases morale and joy, for such a little cost, during a tough time of year. On the issue of MLA’s popping by Raj’s office to get their rashes and cough’s checked out. Its NOT a jumping of any kind. If Raj writes a prescription, did it out of his own personal time and charged NO money for the services, its not queue jumping. As a mechanic, let me tell you, my family, friends and co-workers, its a professional courtesy for me to go over their house after hours, fix their car and charge NO money. It’s called a professional courtesy, where you do things on your own time, for NO money, outside of your employer. Lawyers, Engineers, Teachers, all sorts of professionals do friendly and courteous favors. If Raj treated somebody in his office for a cold and writes a prescription, its legit. Absolutely, yes it is. Lots of professionals from all walks of life, give professional courtesies ALL the time. Yes they do. Cookie monster was probably given his severance on an unwritten contingent that he agree to toss Raj under the bus. This inquiry, was called by Redfraud, purely for political whitewash purposes. The first being, to bait and switch the public away from a REAL PUBLIC INQUIRY into horrible patient outcomes and physician intimidation and that of a broken system, the second being to turn the blame on the old Tory Guard and the third, to find a blantantly false and now sloppy way to somehow discredit Raj and Brian knows that, just ask him, yes he does, ask him. Now REAL Queue jumping is performing medical treatment, for money, outside of normal business hours, using publically paid for facilities or private facilities, so that folks who normally had to wait like everybody else don’t have to, because they paid for it and the Doctor profited, in other words, there was a contract for the service, an offer and a consideration, that is Tort Law.. Private healthcare is queue jumping. Just get your terminology straight climenhaga.


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