Last Friday we had the opportunity to talk to Heather Yourex from Global News about the 5th anniversary of Greg’s death and the current state of our health system. Heather also reached out to Alberta Health, which triggered the following response:

“The HQCA’s 2013 Continuity of Patient Care report identified a number of important changes that needed to occur in Alberta’s health care system to improve continuity of care. Following the report, Alberta Health has worked with Alberta Health Services and other health care partners to improve continuity of care, and the 2015 follow up report from the HQCA noted that significant work had been done towards implementing the recommendations.

We are constantly working to improve health care and provide the very best care for Albertans, and this includes ongoing efforts to expand the use of technology in our health care system. Alberta Health is providing $400 million to AHS to implement a clinical information system that will create a single electronic health record for every Albertan, ensuring all AHS health providers have access to and contribute to the same information. This single source of information will support team-based, integrated care with a focus on the patient and the efficient and effective provision of services.

At the same time, Alberta Health Services is actively working with primary care, family physicians and specialists in a variety of areas to improve integration of care for patients to ensure safe transitions of care between care providers and different healthcare services.

Rockyview General Hospital in Calgary has led the way provincially with several patient-centred care practices, including:

  • “Family presence” guidelines, which recognize key family members as important to patient wellbeing and should not be excluded outside of normal visitor hours.
  • Monthly welcome sessions for new staff, including a presentation from a patient advocate to highlight the importance of patient and family-centred care.
  • Patients who have undergone urology surgical procedures are able to contact the urologist on-call directly for concerns after hours, rather than being referred to the ED.
  • Formatted whiteboards have been installed in all patient rooms to support communication between the health team and patient team.

Alberta Health values the work of the Health Quality Council of Alberta and has increased funding to the council by $241,000 this year. Efforts to strengthen continuity of care are ongoing, and we’ll continue to work closely with AHS and our health partners to advance the important work in this area.”

Here again we have a well-worn response from nameless spokespeople for Alberta Health and Alberta Health Services talking about installing white boards and changing visiting hours at one hospital. Somehow the public is expected to take comfort in this while there are more people dying prematurely as a result of errors and gaps in the system.

When we talk about improvement to our health system we are talking about changes that are more significant than adding a whiteboard to a hospital room. While a whiteboard may be a beneficial addition, would it really have saved Greg? That answer is no of course.

Rockyview Hospital’s “ ‘Family presence’ guidelines, which recognize key family members as important to patient wellbeing and should not be excluded outside of normal visitor hours.” May be a small step in the right direction but why can’t Alberta follow Saskatchewan’s lead and eliminate visiting hours completely?

They state that they value the work of the Health Quality Council of Alberta ($7 million), while the annual provincial budget for this work is less than last year’s advertising bill for the government’s Climate Change Leadership Plan (~$9 million).

The Continuity of Care Report has a total of 17 recommendations and sub recommendations. While we certainly are thankful for the progress made less than one third have been acted on sufficiently to have any real impact on patient care.

The government has budgeted 400 million for digital health records but Deputy Premier Hoffman recently announced that the Patient Portal will not be available for at least another year because the previous government didn’t anticipate the need for mobile access. In other provinces, patients and families already have this available to them. We often hear about how advanced and comprehensive Alberta’s Netcare is, why can’t patients access their Netcare record now and, if it is required, provide mobile access down the road? The thing is, the government will never be able to keep up with rapidly changing technology. The best course would be to utilize and encourage what is being developed outside the government’s world – but of course that does not fit their secretive and all controlling political approach.

Greg’s tragic death was not unique.

The Alberta public doesn’t realize this because often families that have also been affected choose to suffer quietly, trying to heal their hearts from their terrible loss. Additionally, the system’s leadership, that should be making sure everyone learns from failure, are more worried about the politics of taking responsibility publicly than making sure that gaps are closed so that more people do not face the same fate in the future.

Recently a family in Ontario was awarded 5.2 million over complications that occurred during the birth of their daughter. The father has stated “without taking them to court, we never would have found out the answers.” Why does this occur? Why is it acceptable for health systems to cover up rather than disclose information when harm has occurred? The same article states “studies suggest that there are over 130,000 medical errors in Canadian hospitals each year”. Additionally, the Health Quality Council of Alberta’s patient satisfaction survey reports that “12% of Albertans said they or an immediate family member experienced unexpected harm within Alberta’s health system in 2014.”

These statistics are disturbing and yet it Albertans rarely see them and too easily assume that there is nothing that we can do. We cannot afford to simply accept shallow assurances but must ask questions and demand more public investigation and recommendations for improvement. The public must establish this as a matter of a political priority for government. This is critically important for the health and safety of all of our families today and tomorrow.

Real change is needed: our response to Alberta Health

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