Stollery’s request receives mixed reaction

Richard Froese
South Peace News

Big Lakes County and the M.D. of Smoky River are endorsing a letter asking the provincial government to enhance support to the Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton to better serve families in northern and rural regions.

Both councils endorsed the pre-drafted letter to Premier Jason Kenney at their regular meeting Oct. 14 without discussion.

However, Town of High Prairie council denied the request at its regular meeting Oct. 13.

The letter requests that the premier prioritize equity and fairness in children’s healthcare in Alberta.

While High Prairie council members appreciate the service of Stollery to local children and families, they expressed another issue that could hurt the local High Prairie Health Complex.

“We may need to support and help them down the road, but we need to fight for our own hospital,” Councillor Brian Gilroy says.

To start discussion, he stated the High Prairie hospital faces loss of jobs.

Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced Oct. 13 that the Alberta government plans to cut up to 11,000 jobs at Alberta Health Services to save $600 million annually.

He says nurses and front-line workers will not lose their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic.

High Prairie Mayor Brian Panasiuk says the Town has always supported Stollery.

“The Stollery is a first-class organization,” Panasiuk says.

“We have supported the Stollery at the annual Big Lakes County Charity Golf Tournament.”

Town of High Prairie CAO Rod Risling says council has to view such requests for letters of support with a broader view.

“Focus on the bigger picture,” Risling says.

“It’s difficult to choose winners and losers in those requests.

“Find out the greatest needs.”

The request to send a letter to the premier came from a presentation for the Stollery at the Northern Alberta Elected Leaders meeting Sept. 11.

The Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation is already working with a number of rural municipalities and health foundations to both improve healthcare outcomes locally and to build the capacity of local health foundations.

A copy of the letter sent by the Stollery for local governmets to consider:

Honourable Jason Kenney
Premier, President of the Executive Council
307 Legislature Building
10800 – 97 Avenue
Edmonton, AB T5K 2B6

Dear Premier Kenney,

There can be no doubt that the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and collapse in oil prices is putting significant pressure on Alberta’s health care budget. We understand and appreciate that you and your government are facing difficult decisions to keep Alberta financially sustainable. One cost-effective solution that might be overlooked, and worth considering, is the lasting economic benefits to investing in children’s health. We believe that if Alberta’s health care system prioritized children’s health, that commitment could significantly improve the province’s long-term financial situation.

The health of our province starts with the health of our children. By focusing on the beginning of life, rather than the end of life – as ours and most health systems do – we could take care of a host of long-term, chronic physical and mental health problems, potentially saving billions down the road in adult health care costs. The right policy emphasis and decisions today would revolutionize health care in a way that simultaneously lowers costs and paves the way for long and healthy lives.

We are writing to ask you to lead the way in providing the true equity and fairness in children’s health in our province to ensure long-term, positive outcomes for Alberta’s next generation of adults.

According to Statistics Canada, 25 per cent of Alberta’s population is under the age of 18, and by 2041 the annual number of births in Alberta is expected to grow by 26.4 per cent, highlighting the need for long-term planning for children’s health in this province. Despite this, however, children are a neglected demographic in Alberta’s health care plans.

Only two of Alberta’s 113 hospitals are dedicated to children’s health. Many children and their families must travel great distances to Edmonton or Calgary for services that could be brought into local hospitals. These current travel requirements add costs to both the provincial government and Albertan families.

Children’s health care is different than that of adults: their bodies are smaller and they arrive in our health care system with family in tow, meaning that family supports are an essential component of children’s health care. Furthermore, children are also particularly vulnerable to illnesses and infections, many of which bear lifelong ramifications if not properly treated. Treating children close to home also has proven health benefits and can help bend the cost-curve on the overall health expenditures for the Government of Alberta.

We are encouraged by the UCP government’s ongoing support for stable, sustainable health care funding in Alberta. We now ask that you invest in children’s health through policy development that will place the physical and mental health of kids and youth at the forefront. It is the best way to ultimately lower the cost burden of our overall healthcare system and to ensure a healthy future for the next generation of Albertans.

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