Eight years ago on May 19. 2012 Greg Price passed away prematurely while attempting to get the care he needed from Alberta’s health non-system.
The events we were part of leading up to his death remain sharp and hard with us.
We have tried to create a legacy around the fine person that Greg was and to have everyone learn from the fateful journey he travelled and from the cracks he fell through. On our journey these past 8 years, we have met fine people, strongly dedicated to making things better. We have met people who go to great lengths to do the best they can to work with patients and families in their journeys toward their health and care goals. And we have met many people who have their own stories, their own experiences with gaps in the system, both as patients and as health professionals.
We have met people like ourselves, who are frustrated with the slow progress being made toward the development of a real “system” which would provide Safe, Continuous, Collaborative, Patient Partnered Care. A system with a true Safety Culture, completely based on teamwork with patients and their families/loved ones as full members on their team, working together on their health care.
The Covid-19 pandemic has changed many things. It has caused people to stop and think about their health, their safety and about their friends and their neighbors and about those at home and abroad that are less fortunate and more at risk than we are. It has also created the need to make advances in care and in communication processes that have been available before but now are essential. We hope that much of what has been learned, and the processes that have been developed will remain in place and be building blocks for additional advances in care.
In Alberta, some advantages of a more consolidated structure have been shown, while at the same time, the great flaw of the integration of provincial politics has also be laid bare in a couple of different ways.
Alberta was able to move quickly to source needed personal protective equipment, ventilators and to have a coordinated plan across the hospital system. A plan that established treatment capacity for a high level of cases, which thankfully so far, have not been needed.
On the other hand, when Alberta had its first reported case of Covid-19 on March 5th, it came more than 7 weeks after the first reported case in BC. This provided an opportunity to learn from that province’s experience both in its concentrated population centres and its most vulnerable in Senior Care facilities. The quick expansion of seniors affected in BC made national news and was concerning for us all. One notable step taken there on March 27th, was to ensure that care workers only worked with one facility. While we had heard there was consideration for this earlier, this step was not taken in Alberta until between April 16th and April 23rd. We believe that this delay put many seniors at risk and resulted in more deaths. It was not about patient nor provider safety but was the result of other considerations.
Of course the top down power play by the Minister of Health and the Alberta government targeting primary care doctors to cut health treatment costs has been reported broadly. While some of the imposed changes have been rolled back by the government, serious additional damage has been done to what could be described as an uncomfortable relationship between them. The choice of the government to target cuts at the primary care level is troubling to us. This first stage of care, including important preventative or maintenance of health, is very important and actually saves health treatment costs for the acute care system. It also is the relationship that is built and maintained between these doctors and the families that is the foundation for better care continuity. We understand that the work done at this level has more impact on health outcomes than anything that happens further down the treatment path. In our view, targeting primary care is more about political power play than it is about patient safety or care.
We now have been publicly showing our film Falling Through The Cracks; Greg’s Story for just over 2 years. A common question we are asked during our post screening discussions is “what have we seen that has changed since Greg’s death?”
In our answers, we point to some changes in After Hour Care and Referral Standards, and to some progress being made toward a single, completely patient accessible electronic health record and to the ability for Radiologists to order the next logical and priority diagnostic test needed for patients while keeping the referring doctor informed. We also point to finding less defensiveness and more openness for discussions with health professionals about how to learn from challenges and to improve the “system” now, than when we began the journey to honour Greg more than 7 years ago.
We also talk about the phenomenal work being done through the engagement of those that are training new doctors, nurses and health professionals, in using Greg’s Story to change the culture to one that is much more teamwork orientated and one that focuses more on Safety for patients and providers. We hope that this will be foundational work that really does change the culture of working with patients in their care.
It is challenging work for everyone to have a very traditional, rigid and to a great extent, isolated health treatment “system” make such a fundamental change to Safety First with Teamwork as the key structure.
Ultimately what it takes to achieve this is willing and committed leadership. Leadership that, especially during these very trying times of the pandemic, the economic downturn in Alberta before and now during it, is able to stop and listen. We hoped with the change in government last year, that there would be an opportunity taken to collaborate and to jointly develop a strong new vision for a new culture, a new delivery process and a new working relationship for the system. What we have seen and heard so far, is not about prioritizing Safety and Care for Patients or Providers. It has been about political priorities, and political spin around perceived political opportunities. While the opportunity remains for Alberta to lead the country in a new way to efficiently and effectively work with patients and families in their health care, the situation today is significantly worse than it was a year ago.
For us, true leadership, especially when times are tough, is much less about what the leaders choose to say than it is about how carefully they choose to listen. Its not about spin or political ambition. Its not about picking opponents to demonstrate power. Its about building relationships to harness greater strength to accomplish more. Its about a common vision built and committed to collaboratively while we all look at the opportunities and the challenges that lie ahead of us. No rose coloured glasses. No false hopes to return to the comfortable past. Just honest teamwork setting a new course to serve everyone better, as safely and as well as we can.
Greg was a respectful, selfless person that made others he was listening to feel like they were the most important person to him. Many said this at his memorial service. He also was a team player who his coaches said made everyone else better. One of his favourite quotes as words to live by was “My best friend is the one that brings out the best in me”. Remember Greg and who he was. The world would be a much better place if there were more like him.
We miss him dearly.