With all due respect to those fighting health care battles in rural Saskatchewan, you probably have already lost the fight if you only are only staring your fight when the closure announcement is made.Of course, this mistake is understandable.
The most natural tendency may be to hit back hard when either hospital beds or nursing home beds are threatened. But by that time, it's often too late. Why rural communities lose these battles is that all recognize that something has to be done to get a better handle on the $4.2-billion public health budget. For the same reason that it was tough 17 years ago to criticize the closure of those rural hospitals, it's also tough to criticize today's decisions if they are truly saving the health system money.
What rural folks really need to do is fight the second most natural tendency of not getting involved in this debate until your facility is threatened. In fact, rural folks need to get involved long before that. They need to demand a more efficient health care delivery to prevent the temptation of someone resorting to the easy solution of closing rural beds.For one thing, rural communities have a special vested interest in insuring that we have a well-run public health system. After all, is a more privatized system a solution, given that private doctors would be less interested in setting up shop in smaller centres? If rural communities feel they need to provide bonuses (cars, homes, cash, etc.) to attract doctors in the public system, what hope would they have in more private system?
For another thing, rural Saskatchewan residents seem especially vulnerable to the inevitable call for more efficiency in health care delivery. Instead, they need to be the ones demanding government provide them with a more efficient health care delivery long before any bed closures are contemplated. The thought crosses ones mind after the recent less-than-rational opposition from the NDP and others to the use of private surgical clinics that will operate with the bounds of Medicare. At a pricetag of $1,500 per procedure ($179 cheaper than the government's cost of $1,679) these private clinic surgeries are not only reducing wait times but also saving taxpayers money.
For the NDP or anyone else to be oblivious to such realities does nothing to preserve health facilities in rural Saskatchewan. It's about here where rural voters should rise up and say: If it saves money and means our hospital and nursing home beds won't close, than it makes sense.
But lest anyone think that the problem is exclusively an ideological one with the NDP, consider the stories this summer of individual Regina and Saskatoon nurses (some, working in nursing homes) pulling down a quarter million dollars because of overtime.
Think about it the context of the 600 extra registered nurses the government has recruited and that overly generous 35-per-cent plus settlement given to the nurses by the Sask. Party government cabinet two years ago. Think about those negotiations in the context of whatever role the Saskatchewan Association of Health Organizations (SAHO) was supposed to play. Think about all these costly layers of bureaucracy like SAHO, the health regions and provincial Health Ministry in the context of all the money wasted on non-frontline delivery.And think about all this in the context of the government's lip service towards its new cost-saving "LEAN" program in health designed to find efficiencies.
Is this Sask. Party government truly doing all it can to save money in health care? Or is it now doing what governments have always done by allowing its health regions to prescribe to the quick and easy solution of cutting rural beds?Rural residents need to be vigilant in their demand that government look at all avenues to find efficiencies in health service delivery.
It's in their vested interest to do so.