We’ve had two big health care stories break in Sudbury over the past week. One was a heart-breaking tragedy that highlights — in a perfect, terrible way — the crisis we are facing as a province.
The other story, well, it’s too early to tell exactly what it means just yet. I’ll get to the first story in a bit, but right now, let’s take a look at what Premier Doug Ford and Health Minister Christine Elliott have planned for health care.
On Tuesday, the Conservatives unveiled a major overhaul of health care. The plan is to scrap some 20 different agencies that manage things like local health care spending priorities, cancer treatments, electronic health records and others. The bulk of those 20 agencies are the 14 Local Health Integration Networks (LHIN) set up by the Liberals in 2007.
With control over $30 billion in health care funds, the intent of the LHINs made sense — have more health care spending decisions be made locally, rather than by faceless bureaucrats in Toronto, and streamline the system to make it easier for patients to get the services they need.
But did that happen? Critics — some of them senior health care bureaucrats — say the LHINs, rather than streamlining things, added a new layer of bureaucracy that slowed down access to care instead of speeding it up. The promised efficiencies never materialized, the Tories say, and the system costs $90 million a year to operate with few tangible benefits.
So basically the Conservative plan to fix health care is to scrap the Liberal LHIN bureaucracy in favour of a Conservative bureaucracy with a different name. They’re calling this new bureaucracy a ‘super agency’.
We deserve a health care system that is user-friendly and empathetic. If the Conservatives say they can do it better and cheaper, I say put your mouth where my money is. I’m just not sure creating a new bureaucracy is the right way to go.
Elliott said the new system would provide “seamless” access to care. If the Conservatives have hit upon an efficient way to provide personal navigation through the labyrinthine health care system, more power to them. Such a system would truly be excellent.
To our detriment, our health care system hasn’t kept pace with our ability to provide care. Governments, for decades, ignored warnings that changing demographics and technological advances would one day swamp hospitals with patients who have no other place to go because the system isn’t set up that way. The system is clogged. This is a crisis. This is not ‘care.’
Care is what a parent provides a sick child, the TLC that soothes body and soul. When you take your car to a mechanic, you take it for ‘servicing.’ Sure, our bodies are fleshy machines, but when something breaks down, we go to a hospital for care, not servicing.
Which brings me to the story I mentioned off the top. In the word ‘care,’ is there any suggestion that it means spending your final moments on Earth on a gurney in the hallway of a crowded emergency room while your family huddles around you and strangers shuffle passed, headed for the parking lot or the Tim Hortons in the lobby?
This is the ordeal of the Komarechka family, a story told on Sudbury.com this week in a poignant and powerful way by health reporter Carol Mulligan. While desperate doctors and nurses fought to find a room for them, Danny Komarechka’s family, frustrated and heart-broken, watched as he passed on without any dignity or privacy.
Our outdated health care system is at the point where we are being serviced, not cared for. That is not health care; it is a symptom.
At least the Tories recognize there is a problem (although you’d have to stick your head pretty far in the sand not to see that). What we need is a plan and 20 years to turn the ship. The Liberals had 15 years and they couldn’t do it.
I don’t know if the super agency is the way to go. I do know there are far too many Danny Komarechkas in Ontario, far too many people dying in hospital hallways or suffering violence and neglect in nursing homes.
This is a crisis.
Mark Gentili is the editor of Sudbury.com and Northern Life.