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Uzelman: The health care crisis - part one

New column from Bruce Uzelman
Nurses tend to a COVID-19 patient in the Intensive Care Unit at the Bluewater Health Hospital in Sarnia, Ont., on Tuesday, January 25, 2022. Nearly two and a half years since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, what started as a challenge related to high infection rates overloading hospitals has evolved into an acute labour challenge.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

~BW Uzelman

The shortage of doctors and nurses has approached crisis proportions in 2022, as hospitals have been forced to close Emergency Departments across Canada. Closures have hit several small urban centers in BC, and towns and cities across the country. The District of Clearwater, BC, North of Kamloops, has experienced intermittent shutdowns. Again, in August, it closed for eight nights straight.

Dr Katherine Smart, President of the Canadian Medical Association, in June, warned, “What is clearly coming is the collapse of the current health-care system ….” She nicely encapsulated the overlapping pressures causing increased patient volumes in hospitals: a variety of viruses, staff off sick with Covid, huge backlogs of patients not treated during Covid, and physicians leaving their practices, forcing more people to emergency for treatment.

The crisis is deserving of one of those Nero cartoons. In this case, Nero – PM Justin Trudeau – fiddles as a hospital signed “Canadian Healthcare System” goes up in flames. Such a cartoon is trite, but it is apt. The provinces requested a meeting with the federal government to discuss funding, and they are MIA.

The Trudeau Government, of course, is not solely responsible for the healthcare mess. The provinces have been training an insufficient number of nurses and doctors for years. The impending crisis was only too evident a decade back and more.

The Canadian Nurses’ Association, in 2009, predicted that by 2022 Canada would see a shortage of 60,000 RNs. More recently, in 2021, UBC’s nursing program had fewer seats funded than it had “stellar” applicants. A year later, the Province of BC added funding for 600 seats to the existing 2000. Too little, too late? Presently, as the staffing pressures proliferate, more nurses are leaving the public system.

Similarly, the primary care crisis was just as clear, in BC and across the country. Just one example: In a 2011 report, Nadeem Ismail, a Senior Fellow of the Fraser Institute, warned, “If you think it is bad now, just wait. Over the next decade, the physician shortage will become severe.” And Ismail attributed the shortage to “insufficient training in Canada”.

Five million Canadians and 900,000 BC residents do not have a Family Doctor. The BC Government is still not training enough doctors, and has not sufficiently accelerated accreditation for foreign Doctors. Furthermore, physicians are choosing to exit family practices, and new physicians are not choosing family practice. Causes include growing demands, low compensation and higher costs.

Doctors have long sought reform of the fee-for-service model. It satisfies neither the needs of the patient nor the income requirements of the doctor. Premier John Horgan, in April of 2022, admitted, “We have a problem here,” referring to the shortage of doctors and healthcare workers. “Our system is chronically underfunded….” He was committed, he said, to get more federal funding to enable us, amongst other things, “to change our fee-for-service model”. That is bold, and essential, if we are to avoid a permanent scarcity of family doctors, and a collapse of the hospital system.

However, the Trudeau Government refuses to discuss healthcare funding. Yet, it is introducing national dental care, and committing to national pharma care. If it cannot honour its historic commitments to a now failing healthcare system, it would best delay committing funds elsewhere.


Bruce W Uzelman

I grew up in Paradise Hill, a village in Northwestern Saskatchewan. I come from a large family. My parents instilled good values, but yet afforded us, my seven siblings and I, much freedom to do the things we wished to do. I spent my early years exploring the hills and forests and fields surrounding the village, a great way to come of age. My parents owned a successful general store. My siblings and I were required to help out in the business, no choices allowed there!

I attended the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. I considered studying journalism at one point, but did not ultimately pursue that. However, I obtained a Bachelor of Arts, Advanced with majors in Economics and Political Science in 1982.

My career has consisted exclusively of small business, primarily restaurant and retail. I was originally based in Alberta, and then BC, first in Summerland, then Victoria and finally Kelowna (for over 20 years). I was married in Alberta, and we have two daughters, who have returned to Alberta as adults for career reasons, as did my now ex-wife. My daughters are successful, and now have families of their own.

I have maintained a healthy interest in politics throughout my adult years, and wish to put that and my research skills to work as a political columnist.


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