ON THE RUN: Premier should show his callous reps the door

SUSAN DUNCAN / Kamloops Daily News
July 10, 2009 01:00 AM

The appointed head of Interior Health Authority's board of directors wonders why millions of public dollars are going toward residential care for seniors.

That was the response from Norman Embree to reporter Don Plant of the Kelowna Daily Courier.

Plant confirmed Thursday Embree made the comments during an interview that was refreshingly candid. He also noted that Embree prefaced his remarks by saying he was being philosophical and speaking for himself as opposed to his position as board president.

That should be a relief to Health Ministry officials who may be called upon to explain Embree's comments since they contradict the Liberal government's previous statements on care for seniors.

They may be even more relieved that Embree's other statement - people have to be putting aside RRSPs for their old age - didn't make it into Plant's original story.

The former Salmon Arm businessman seems unaware that many people barely make enough money to cover their basic necessities let alone have something to spare for an RRSP.

His remark is indicative of his entire attitude toward health care, including his belief that a multi-tier health care system is just common sense.

"We're already multi-tier . . . We already go to Washington (for private care). Why not have it here?" Embree told Plant.

He went on, without shame, to make similar statements to Daily News reporter Robert Koopmans.

But then his comments reflect those Kevin Falcon made just after he was sworn in as B.C.'s health minister. "So much of the health-care discussion in this country is blocked by silly ideological arguments," Falcon said.

He told the Vancouver Sun: "I don't have an objection to people using their own money to buy private services just as they do with dentists, just as they do with other decisions they make - you know, sending their kids to private school or what have you."

He later clarified that he should have stipulated that he meant procedures that are not medically necessary. Sure he did.

The trouble with both interviews - Falcon's and Embree's - is that they contradict Canada's Health Act, which mandates universal access to health care for Canadians. Rich or poor, Canadians have a right to equal health care.

Surely that's a good thing. Wealthy people have a lot of advantages in our country, but the advantage is supposed to stop when it comes to health care delivery.

Now we have to be afraid, though, when health leaders express a plan for health care with no real understanding of why it would be wrong to discriminate against people who can't afford to pay for everything themselves.

Scary things happen when money gets tight. People look for ways to cut and sometimes they get mean. For Embree to question why taxpayers are expected to finance residential care for seniors is quite staggering.

What would he suggest for those irresponsible seniors who didn't squirrel away ample funds for cushy private care homes? Ice floes?

Shame on them for raising families when they should have been going to universities and getting economic degrees so they could figure out the best ways to build a nest egg.

It's true health authorities in B.C. are suffering from budget shortfalls. Administration and their boards are in an unenviable situation of trying to figure out ways to make cuts with the least impact on patients.

However, suggesting we open up the gates to private health care and at the same time force seniors to bear the full expense of their own care is not a solution. It's a direct route to social chaos.

We are either a compassionate society or we are one that tosses vulnerable people on the street to make their own way. Do we not already have enough homeless people living in unspeakable conditions merely because they were unfortunate enough to be plagued with a mental illness or drug addiction?

British Columbians elected the Liberal government on a platform that supported the public health system and good care for seniors.

If Falcon and his political appointees view that as just too cumbersome for the books, then they should be relieved of their responsibilities.

Perhaps we should feel fortunate that they both showed their agendas before they were able to do any damage.

Premier Gordon Campbell has stayed out of the recent health melee. He needs to step in and tell British Columbians just what they can expect from his government when it comes to their health care and that of their parents.

Susan Duncan is city editor of The Daily News. Her column appears Fridays. E-mail her at sduncan@kamloopsnews.ca.

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