Higher need to serve others

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Written by Submitted

In 2008, Ron Liepert, the out-spoken Minister of Health promised Albertans a panacea.  His surprise announcement to fire nine regional hospital boards and form a new superboard rocked health care.  But Liepert assured Albertans that this move “would remove barriers to care, provide administrative cost savings and direct more money into patient care.”  He further assured health professionals and patients that “they would not be directly affected”.
At the time, then Liberal Health Critic David Swann, a physician, said “the government is rushing headlong into these changes without enough forethought.”
Not surprisingly, today the painful reality is Liepert’s words were categorically wrong on all accounts whereas Dr. Swann’s were unfortunately prophetic.
Danielle Smith, leader of the Wildrose Party, summarized it best–the superboard model resulted in the “growth of bureaucracy, growth of senior executives, growth of executive salaries and compensation packages, out-of-control expenses and an out-of-control board.”
Many of the problems now faced within our health care system emanated from our stubbornly-held philosophy that the private sector is always more efficient and can always run things better than the public service.
Yet why would we believe this?
Business is in the business of producing goods or services and selling them at a profit.  Their only goal is for management to make money for their shareholders and remunerate themselves handsomely.
Since the “meism” of the 1980s, compensation for sporting figures and business executives have gone completely stupid, but that’s free enterprise.  Without profit motivation Canada would not be the great country it is today.  Profit generates both economic growth and innovation which, in turn, leads to wealth.
But that is not the goal or purpose of the public service. Its role is to serve the public by providing services. People hired into the public service need to have a higher need to serve others than to serve themselves.  But the whole philosophy of bringing bonuses and pay incentives into the public sector has corrupted the system.
It was when the government started to “businify” government that the gross abuse and disrespect for taxpayers began.  The public service became a haven for outrageous executive contracts, bonuses, at-risk pay and excessive or fraudulent expense accounts.
Coincidently, Alberta’s Auditor General has for decades been asking successive Progressive Conservative premiers to tighten up the controls on executive compensation and termination packages.
It’s time that civil servants become civil servants again.  The bonuses and incentives must stop.  If you want a job, this is the salary. Now do your job.  If you want bonuses, get a private sector job.
It’s a truism that political leaders are heavily pressured all the time to co-mingle business with public service priorities because it can be very beneficial to profit takers.
But that is not the role of government. Both the governing Conservatives and the governing-party-in-waiting, the Wildrose Party, should now clearly understand that putting health care and other societal necessities into the profit model is self-defeating. It’s equivalent to an oil company loading up its board of directors with medical doctors and nurses whose collective goal is to send the majority of the profits to health programs in third-world countries.
These doctors and nurses have the wrong motivation for sitting on the board of a publically-traded company. In the same way, profit-takers have the wrong motivation when it comes to delivering public service and social programs.
Business people are concerned about profits and fiduciary responsibilities.  Public servants should be concerned about the public good and social responsibilities, not about earning bonuses and incentive pay.
Interestingly at the AHS Board Meeting on January 31, 2013, then-Chairman, and now fired-Chairman, Stephen Lockwood, was recorded as saying,  “It is important to be frank with Albertans about the actions we are taking to get value from every dollar they invest in health care, and what we are doing to reinvest those dollars to improve their health care experience.”
How little did we know that those words would translate into $3.2 million of our tax dollars going directly into the pockets of 99 highly paid health care executives!

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