Profits before people

Written by Brenda Schimke

As the old adage goes, ‘never let a serious crisis go to waste’, and Jason Kenney is certainly taking advantage of the pandemic to further his goal to privatize health care delivery. That’s the only logical reason for his cavalier attitude towards preventable serious illnesses and avoidable deaths.

But there could be a method to his madness. It’s a great way to convince Albertans that for-profit health care is the right answer.

It’s a situation made in heaven for profiteers in the health care world. The UCP’s decision to let successive waves of the pandemic reach crisis proportions before doing anything has guaranteed the cancellation of thousands of important and necessary surgeries.

What does the private sector need most to be successful? Demand! And each day that scheduled surgeries are cancelled, demand soars. 

Kenney confirmed as much in the Q&A session following his Sept. 21 news conference. When queried, he confirmed his government is in active contract negotiations with a number of private surgical providers.

The pandemic has served to advance Kenney’s priority to privatize large portions of Alberta’s health care system. The chaos he has created in the public system is beating down medical professionals who previously would never have considered leaving the public system for a private system.

Quebec went down the road of private-or-profit surgeries and private-sector nursing agencies. Premier Francois Legault has now changed his tune.  With the billions of dollars Ottawa has promised to send to provinces, Legault’s top priority is to get doctors and nurses back into the public system.

New Brunswick’s Premier Blaine Higgs, this past week, committed to stop the practice of hiring graduate nurses only as part-timers. He has now committed that all New Brunswick nurses upon graduation will be offered full-time positions.

I know a nurse who transferred to a position at the WW Cross Cancer Clinic in Edmonton. With no previous experience in cancer treatment, she was promised a ‘buddy’ to learn the ropes. Yet staff shortages prevented her from getting the support she needed forcing her to quit within the week. 

“I went into nursing to save lives, not kill patients”, she said.

British Columbia isn’t doing any better at managing scarce nursing resources. The Red Deer Advocate reported on Sept. 25 that a nurse who graduated in 2017 quit his ER position at the Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops, B.C. to take a part-time position at a private clinic. He commented, “We just can’t keep throwing new grads into the pit.”

Earlier in the pandemic, Red Deer Regional Hospital lost four anesthesiologists, at a time when there was work for an additional five anesthesiologists. 

For-profit surgeries will further exacerbate this critical shortage in our public hospitals.

Doctors, nurses and other medical professionals are tired and discouraged. Many have taken early retirement or just left the public system. 

You certainly can’t blame them. Attitudes towards doctors and nurses have become toxic after years of successive conservative governments demonizing their work and compensation rates. 

Not surprising, doctors are now being harassed in their offices by patients, nurses cursed on hospital wards, and health care workers taunted as they go into hospitals to save lives.

In a private/public health care model, the public system always becomes the poor cousin. Tired of being beat up by inane political policy decisions, budget cuts and disrespect, a critical number of doctors and nurses will move to the for-profit sector leaving the public system even more under-staffed and under-resourced.

The pandemic has become Jason Kenney’s perfect crisis to stealthily advance his for-profit health care model in Alberta. 

And, it’s working splendidly.


Brenda Schimke

ECA Review

About the author

Brenda Schimke

Schimke is a Graduate with Distinction from the University of Alberta with a BCom degree. She has lived and worked in Alberta, BC and Ontario.