Protesters call for commitment to public health care by government

Protesters gathered in conjunction with the recent dismissal of AHS CEO Dr. Verna Yiu

Health care protest at McDougall Centre in Calgary on Wednesday, April 6, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Concerns over the departure of Dr. Verna Yiu from Alberta Health Services took centre stage as protesters in Calgary and Edmonton called on the government to recommit to public-only health care in the province.

Dr. Yiu’s firing from AHS, first reported by CTV Calgary, led to Protect our Province Alberta holding Wednesday’s protest. PoPAB organized daily rallies throughout the summer last year after the Alberta government announced changes to testing, tracing, and Covid-19 isolation procedures.

Patrick King, an organizer for PoPAB, said that the firing was a concern for both health workers and for Albertans in general.

“She has kept the ship running at AHS really smoothly during the multiple crises of both pandemic and also a government that isn’t really interested in investing in public health care,” he said.

He said that the protest was organized to mark Dr. Yiu’s firing, but also to call on the government to provide “well funded, well equipped, publicly funded, publicly delivered health care” in Alberta.

The protest in Calgary was sparsely attended compared to other protests in past weeks. Several dozen members of the health care profession, representatives of the province’s health care unions, MLAs from Alberta’s NDP, and the public took part.

NDP calls on government to let Dr. Yiu speak

NDP Critic for Justice and the Solicitor General, Ifran Sabir, who attended the protest, said that his party has asked the government to lift any non-disclosure conditions on Dr. Yiu.

He said that he believed she was fired to allow the government to proceed on a health privatization agenda.

AHS board chair Gregory Turnbull said in a release that they thanked Dr. Yiu for her leadership and that there had always been a plan to transition to a new CEO of AHS.

“We are excited about the future, and in particular we look forward to delivering on key priorities such as the expansion of surgical and acute care services, continuing care, the EMS improvement plan, enhanced mental health programs and services, and workforce recruitment and retention,” he said.

MLA Sabir took direct aim at the government for what he called the Americanization of Alberta’s health care system.

“I think either UCP is creating a two-tier health care system, and that’s that’s not the responsible thing to do,” he said.

When asked by LWC, Sabir didn’t say if the NDP would walk back any contracts signed for the provision of health care in Alberta by private providers, should the NDP form government in 2023.

“I think one thing I would say is that we are not privy to all those details,” he said.

He reiterated the party’s stance that they would remain committed to a publicly funded and publicly available health care system.

Private system increases danger to patients, said UNA president

Cam Westhead, United Nurses of Alberta’s 2nd vice president and former NDP MLA, said that Alberta faces the reality of a worldwide human resource challenge in health care.

“Nurses are in demand around the world,” said Westhead. He said right now nurses are looking at the sixth wave of Covid in the province, and the uncertainty that comes with reduced health protections.

“So healthcare workers are looking at the landscape in front of them and asking, ‘is this where I want to spend the next six months even at work?’ People just say, ‘it’s not worth it right now.'”

He said that morale among nurses was very low, and staff are burnt out from low staffing levels.

“Frontline nurses are being called in on overtime on their days off. They’re being tracked down at their homes, in the grocery store, and mandated to come in and work overtime.”

He said that private health care providers would further dilute the number of staff available in the public system.

Westhead said the province could send a strong message of support to healthcare workers by not asking for concessions from workers during negotiations. He said that the province is currently negotiating with the Health Science Association of Alberta. They could reassure workers by ceasing to ask for significant wage rollbacks.

The province has proposed between 0.28 per cent and 11 per cent wage rollbacks, with the higher amounts for pharmacy technicians at 10.93 per cent, social workers at 10.9 per cent, and respiratory therapists at 8.05 per cent.

He also called on the government to end plans to dilute anaesthetist duties between operating rooms. The government has proposed respiratory therapists taking over part of that role.

“This is people undergoing surgery, their life is in the hands of the care team, and the Alberta Health Services idea is to make sure that they don’t have the care that they deserve.”

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