Not surprising about health delays affecting just about everything

System inefficiency spreads to normal people too

I wasn’t surprised last week when the Wildrose Opposition commented to the effect an investigative committee should take a close look at surgical wait times in Alberta.

“The Health Minister and NDP government must direct the Health Quality Council of Alberta (HQCA) to conduct a study on surgical and emergency wait times in Alberta,” the Wildrose Official Opposition stated in a June 8 press release.

“The average wait time for a knee replacement surgery in the South Zone, which includes Lethbridge and Medicine Hat, is 52.2 weeks. The wait time for the same surgery in the Calgary Zone is 37.1 weeks.”

Over the past 10 years or so, I’ve seen this kind of stuff firsthand. Wait times, delays, red tape, more delays etc. Not through my own experience, but helping my senior citizen mother deal with not only her health concerns but with the Alberta healthcare system.

A few years back when I was working as editor at The Mountaineer newspaper in Rocky Mountain House, my mother’s arthritis, joint and mobility issues were flaring up to quite an extent. She was having, and continues to have, a lot of pain, a lot of loss of mobility and other problems. Of course, this affects her quality of life.

She started off going to her local family doctor, but it seems local family doctors can’t do much anymore. Specialists in the city do everything. For her arthritis, joint, digestion and other issues, she was directed to specialists in Calgary, Red Deer and Edmonton. As my mom is a small town lady who grew up in a rural area smaller than Millet, she doesn’t do too well driving in places like Calgary or Edmonton.

So I had to take her to her appointments in Calgary, Red Deer and Edmonton. To take her, I had to book off at least 1.5 work days or give up my weekends for my mom. I don’t have a problem with that; she’s my mom and I’d do anything for her. However, as you’ll read below, I did have a problem with the fact I gave up that time for virtually nothing.

One of the appointments was made for a specialist in Edmonton, which required I take off a day of work early so I could travel to my mom’s place, stay over night, then head to the city early the next morning. Her appointment was very early in the morning, despite the fact we had to travel 2.5 hours to get to Edmonton. We arrived on time regardless, sat in the waiting room for 30 minutes, then she gave her charts to the doctor. He looked at the charts for about five minutes, then made another appointment for her at a different specialist in Edmonton for several weeks later. Why the charts couldn’t be emailed or faxed to save me 500 kilometers of travel, two days or work and expenses, I really don’t know. Very inefficient.

Anyhoo, several weeks later I again took two days off of work to drive to my mother’s place, stay overnight, take her to Edmonton for an early morning appointment after a 2.5 hour drive one-way, then arrive at the specialist’s office. It turns out my mother’s appointment was never made, and the reason was never revealed. Perhaps my mom was too embarrassed to tell me she may not have confirmed her appointment, or the doctor’s office had forgotten my mom’s appointment and wouldn’t admit their mistake. I never did find out the truth.

But I spent a fair bit of cash traveling and on meals, time away from work that negatively affected my employer, my mother had to make a new appointment and have me come again weeks later and her medical condition was no better.

It’s not hard to see why patients, everyday Albertans like my mother, get frustrated with this system.

Someone needs to point out to our provincial government that the healthcare system is supposed to exist to accommodate the people, not the people existing to accommodate the healthcare system.

Stu Salkeld is the editor of The Pipestone Flyer and writes a regular column for the paper.