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Letter: Health Ministry appears to have bungled opportunity

Letter writer expresses his frustration with the provincial government's decision to say no to an MRI machine for St. Joseph's Hospital in Estevan.
St. Joseph's Hospital
St. Joseph's Hospital.

The editor:

I would like to use the word stupid, but I will, in an effort to remain somewhat polite, revert to the word stupefying to address the recent reveal that the Ministry of Health has refused a $2 million donation for the purchase of an MRI unit that would include installation and the training of personnel in Estevan.

The former Minister of Health, Mr. Merriman, attempted to explain why the donation was being rejected. It didn’t make much sense, but perhaps one or two of the more experienced people in that ministry could provide a more solid explanation.

We realize the ministers responsible for each ministry portfolio are required to be the face and voice of that particular department, but it appears reasonable that since these ministers are shuffled around from ministry to ministry on what appears to be a six-month rotation, it is impossible for him/her to gain proper insights into the inner workings of each department they supposedly lead.

We all know deputy ministers and assistant ministers and department administrators run the show, so perhaps they could be hauled out to explain why MRI’s can’t be placed in centres other than Regina and Saskatoon with maybe a few dribbles going out to Moose Jaw and Prince Albert. Or, are they forsaken territories too?

Why can’t a satellite community become a centre of excellence for health care? It would further relieve the existing pressure on Regina’s two ancient hospitals that are continually hard pressed to meet the demands of the populations lined up in their hallways and ERs on gurneys and chairs.

Estevan managed to add dialysis and CT units and a well-trained staff with compelling arguments of need and use. Those were approved with the understanding that they would, indeed, provide relief for the two supposed centres of the Saskatchewan universe. Obviously this was done under a different Health Ministry regime.

Why make southeast Saskatchewan people (about 70,000 of us) make continual treks to Regina for basic health-care services, especially with the knowledge that the province no longer offers public bus transportation service and sometimes only sketchy highways.

With neighbouring Weyburn possibly getting a new hospital and upgraded services near the end of this decade, and with Estevan being promised a new regional nursing home before the dawn of 2030, perhaps Mr. Merriman and his ministry minions could rethink their decision.

With private clinics offering MRI services for a fee in “the cities” belying the very concept of the Saskatchewan-created universal health-care system, the decision to refuse the offer for a public service donation because there needs to be long-range planning doesn’t make sense.

Since when have provincial governments ever considered long-range planning?  Long range for them (or any provincial government) cannot exceed four years, or each election cycle. Why isn’t there a province-wide plan in place ready to deploy when these generous offers and opportunities surface for the benefit of all?

Jealousy? Fear? No money for continued operation? No plan other than for Saskatoon and Regina? What could be the real reason for refusing a significant donation of badly needed health-care equipment and personnel?

Perhaps next month’s health minister and his or her plotters will see the plan differently. We just hope the donor, Ms. Elaine Walkom, doesn’t get discouraged and remove the offer.

Estevan has always been a community that gets things done. We plan, fundraise and build in orderly fashion, and there are plenty of examples of how we do manage to roll out and maintain various services. Ms. Walkom knows all about that and has been engaged in that process before.

Look at the nursing home project alone. We raised the required funds nearly a decade ago in less than four years. The provincial body was taken aback by our positive and rapid reaction to a suggestion that something needed to be done.

So Estevan did something while the provincial mandarins dithered. Still waiting.

Thanks to local pressures and an MLA who understands how we get things done here, the nursing home will finally become a reality within the next few years.

That new residential nursing home could be placed right behind that radiology and laboratory service unit that offers X-rays, ultrasounds, CT scans and MRI services to growing populations that aren’t always excited about having to go to 100-year-old hospitals in Regina for basic health services.

The suggestion is that with the assistance of our local and regional health administrations, the provincial administrations could maybe consider expansion not rejection and regression. Just saying.  

Norm Park,