Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Monday, June 16, 2014

AHS, Letters to the Editor and Supermassive Black Holes

It is with interest I read the recent letter from AHS Chief Zone Officer, North Shelly Pusch in the Letters to the Editor section of the Fort McMurray Today. It was fascinating to see this response to the letter submitted to the same newspaper from the Wood Buffalo Health Advisory Council purporting to address the issues raised in the letter from that advisory council. I say “fascinating” because it seemed to indicate the level of disconnect AHS has with Wood Buffalo, including the advisory council designed to represent our interests to AHS.

It is absolutely terrific that renovations have been underway at the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre to bring it up to the standards it should have been at years ago. Anyone who has spent time in the emergency department knows that in recent years they have been desperately crunched for space, and on occasion I have feared I would be seeing the doctor on call in a broom closet. This is through no fault of the health centre as they work their butts off trying to serve this community, but they have had inadequate support from the province to match the growth of this region and the demands on their services. I suppose we should express some gratitude to AHS for this, so I will say thank you for finally improving something that was woefully neglected for years.

And while it is lovely that they plan to do some refurbishing of the fourth floor where many of our treasured seniors and those with serious chronic health issues languish, it seems a bit pale given that we currently have NO long term care facility for these citizens. While I support the development of a long-term care centre in Parsons Creek a letter that doesn’t even acknowledge the desire to have an aging in place facility at Willow Square or another section of the downtown core has rather missed the point and ignored what this community has been saying for some time.
In a region with a baby boom going on one can anticipate the demand for a surgical suite on the maternity floor will rise just as our birth rate does. Perhaps for once we could be proactive in our approach (you know, as opposed to doing renovations years after it was clear they are needed as in the ER) and develop such a suite now to meet that future need. Is there some desire to always be behind the eight-ball and playing catch up or does it maybe make some sense to look ahead?

Finally and most importantly, though, is the commentary in this letter from AHS as regards medevac services in Wood Buffalo. This phrase fills me with the kind of white-hot anger I rarely feel:
Concerns about the current medevac service are unfounded.

Unfounded? Seriously? I have never read a more patronizing statement from a government organization in my entire life. I don’t appreciate being patted on the head and told to go on my way like a good girl because everything is fine and all is well and my cute little concerns are “unfounded”.

Unfounded my ass. My concerns are well founded, as are those of thousands in this community. Night heli-flight medevac service is saving lives and that very service has been in jeopardy, in no small part due to the unwillingness of AHS to budge from their position of paying a fee-for-service while the municipality and industry cough up the real cash to keep Phoenix Heli-Flight functioning with a 24/7 service. Anyone who thinks the concerns are “unfounded” have not heard the stories of how prior to this service people in remote areas died because the helicopter only able to fly during daylight hours was unable to reach them before darkness fell, their precious life running out just as the daylight hours did. This letter seemingly ignores the raging worries about the cessation of this life-saving service, as if this was not even an issue at all.
Here’s the deal: If the Wood Buffalo Health Advisory Council has grave concerns about health services in this region then we should all be concerned. Frankly even if they did not I think we should all be concerned, because this letter from AHS indicates a level of disconnect that is deeply troubling in all aspects. It ignores the real issues, pretends others don’t exist, and points to new flooring as being a tremendous gain for our community. And while new flooring is lovely it is hardly something for which we should be boot-lickingly grateful, as keeping a facility up to standards should be a given, not a bonus.

Look, as someone who does communications by profession and by nature I recognize spin when I see it, and this letter from AHS is spinning as fast as a supermassive black hole (which is fast enough to push the laws of physics says my kid, who is my resident expert in such matters). I would suggest this entire letter from AHS was ill-considered and speaking of supermassive black holes it should have probably been tossed into one of those instead of lobbed into a local newspaper where it not only didn’t address the concerns the residents of this region have but patronized us and tried to tell us all is fine.
All is not fine. Talk to the nurses at the hospital. Talk to local seniors. Talk to physicians. Talk to medevac personnel. Talk to the folks at Phoenix Heli-Flight. Talk to anyone who has been touched in this community by a serious medical emergency. Talk to the people of the community and you will find that things are far, far from alright, and this letter from AHS? Well, it doesn’t change a thing about any of those concerns. Providing care to Wood Buffalo might be a “challenge” for those at AHS, but the real challenge is for those of us who live here and are reliant on these services and their ability to deliver them.

On this one AHS receives a solid F – a failing grade for communication, concern and ability to connect with the residents of the Wood Buffalo region. I would suggest they might want to try again, and this time talk about Willow Square, nightflight medevac services and all the other issues their letter conveniently glossed over or outright ignored – but I am not holding my breath, because those issues? Well, they are a lot harder to spin than new flooring and furniture, aren’t they?


  1. Well-written, Theresa. I truly wonder about hospital boards in many parts of this country.

  2. Hear hear! What planet are those idiots from I wonder??