In February of 2018 Tom Fletcher wrote an op ed headlined, “Who will care for frail elderly?” Now, months into the COVID-19 pandemic, his question has come home to roost, not just for Canada but for the U.K. and elsewhere.
Tommy Douglas’ fight got us an impressive health care system, and the results were good in the early years. People accessed healthcare without fear of costs. Excellent hospitals were built and staffed, and a system of nursing homes was set up, as was a system to care for the mentally ill. Canadians were the envy of much of the developed world.
But now we’re seeing not only widening cracks, but huge canyons in our health care system. As devastating shortfalls in care and fatality statistics appear on our TV screens and elected officials scramble to explain and promise to do better, Fletcher’s concerns come back to haunt us.
In April, a feel-good article appeared in a Vancouver daily paper by Seniors Advocate and the Safe Seniors Strong Communities program, but Fletcher’s article shows that the CEO of the BC Care Providers Association tried to address staffing problem years before COVID-19.
However, try as they may, today’s politicians and advocates can’t fix something that has been decades in the making. I recall when Paul Martin, then Minister of Finance, began cutting back the health transfer payments to the provinces. That was just the beginning of cutbacks by both Liberal and Tory governments that forced many hospitals to close or reduce services, and mental health facilities to shut their doors and dump patients into the streets.
We are now reaping the whirlwind not only of the COVID-19 fatalities in seniors’ care homes, but also the growing crisis of drug-related deaths, homelessness, and the crippled economy. Something so deeply systemic cannot be easily or quickly fixed.
Can we answer Tom Fletcher’s question? Do our politicians have the courage to work for the people and not remain hostage to Bay Street? Can the people wake up and push those in power to rearrange their priorities in favour of all the people? Others, like the Danes, for instance, have done it better. There are good models we can follow. We need to rebuild our healthcare system to make it truly world-class.
It will take a long time to repair what has been allowed to happen. I just hope that the voters and politicians have the stomach to tackle this seriously.