Since the middle of 1991 I have certainly been the most vigorous and persistent critic of the decision of the Saskatchewan NDP under Premier Roy Romano to strongly move the party to the right – or the liberal position – and abandon the left and democratic tradition of the previous NDP governments of Tommy Douglas, Woodrow Lloyd and Allan Blakeney. I have written many newspaper articles, magazine articles, presented papers, contributed chapters in books, and jointly published a book with two of my friends which is an overall critique. In fact, at times I thought that I was the only one in the province who thought this was a bad move. No one active within the NDP put forth any public criticism. No federal NDP leader ever came to Saskatchewan and in any way criticized the neoliberal policies being implemented by Romanow and his successor, Lorne Calvert. Now it seems that Roy has finally been able in some way to pay me back.
Saskatchewan model of medicare reform
In 1991 the new NDP government found that the spending programs of Grant Devine’s Conservative government (1982-91) had left the province with a large debt and annual budget deficits. The Saskatchewan Federation of Labour and the Saskatchewan Coalition for Social Justice argued that the NDP should follow the example of the CCF government of T.C. Douglas. They had paid down a similar debt over 20 years so that they could retain the ability to implement their progressive party platform. Instead, the Romanow government put its first priority on balancing the budget and paying down the debt.
One of the goals of the Romanow government was to reduce the cost of medicare. They chose the liberal road. They closed 52 of 132 hospitals, transforming them into “health centres.” They created 30 health districts, appointed the majority of their boards, and gave them budgets which were set by the provincial government. The districts were forced to shut facilities and contract out services in order to meet the budget cuts set by the provincial government.
With so many rural hospitals closed, people with emergency health problems were forced to travel by ambulance over significant distances to the remaining hospitals. There was the issue of ambulance service. Originally, the Douglas government had paid for ambulance service. Later there were flat user fees charged. The Romnanow government introduced fees by distances covered. It was not unusual for rural residents to have to pay over $700 to take someone to a hospital by ambulance.
The Romanow government called this “the Wellness Model.” It is no surprise that the NDP lost all of its rural ridings. There is a democratic alternative to the liberal model, based on inequality. In 1998 it was advanced by a new political party, the New Green Alliance, which later formally presented it to the Romanow Commission on Health Care.
|Regina's Plains Health Centre - Closed!|
Changes in Regina
The “Wellness Model” was also instituted in Regina. A private consultant recommended that one hospital be closed, and of course the NDP agreed. They closed the Plains Health Centre, the newest of the three hospitals, built by Allan Blakeney’s NDP government on the southern edge of the city to better serve rural and eastern Saskatchewan. The older two hospitals were to receive some rather expensive upgrading. The key for the Romanow government was that the number of hospital beds in Regina would be reduced from 1200 to 630. They would also move to contract out services. Robins Donuts replaced the on site food services provided by hospital employees.
The Plains hospital was highly regarded. All rooms were private, with large windows looking out at the prairies. Rural communities had contributed to its construction, and they were outraged. The two older hospitals had little room for additional parking space. The Plains was also a teaching centre linked to the University of Saskatchewan schools of medicine and nursing.
There was major opposition to this decision. That included Warnock, who since its beginning had been on the steering committee of the Saskatchewan Coalition for Social Justice. The people of Regina did what they could to try to stop the closure, as did those in the rural south. Warnock, among others, warned that with a rising population it was foolish to close a hospital, especially the newest one. But the NDP government prevailed. The province spent $21 million converting the high rise building to a training facility for the Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology.
Last December Roy Romanow offered his advice to Ontario's Liberal Premier, Dalton McGuinty, on how to cut medicare costs. The model advanced was his experience as premier of Saskatchewan. According to the Ottawa Citizen (December 20, 2011), Romanow advised McGuinty to “act decisively, move fast, and brace for political heat.” The “reforms” to medicare must be implemented “as quickly as you can.” As in Saskatchewan, rural residents will protest when hospitals and jobs are lost.
In any case, my doctor insisted that I have an endoscopic scan of my stomach. I had not had one for five years. There was no emergency situation, an appointment was made, and I would be on the waiting list for eight months.
Two days before my scheduled visit to the Regina General Hospital the doctor’s office called to inform me that my appointment had been cancelled. A new date would be set for some time in the future. I was assured that I would not have to wait another eight months.
What happened? Well, believe it or not, it seems that there is a shortage of hospital beds in Regina. The Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region pointed out that there were only 630 beds in the two hospitals. They are both operating at around 120 to 130 percent capacity. Patients are on stretchers in the corridors. The overflow of patients in the Emergency Ward forced the closure of the endoscopy suite, which under Code Burgundy is used as the main overflow space for ER patients. It is reported in the media that there is public pressure to build another hospital