What Has Happened?

Again, as a polio survivor, I grew up in the healthcare community. I grew up as a resident of the Junior Red Cross Hospital for Crippled Children. That’s where many polio kids in the 1950’s grew up. That is where we were taught to be adaptive and responsible for our own behaviour if we wanted to survive. It was 1972 before it became the Alberta Children’s Hospital and this year marks the 100th anniversary of what is there today. Now I sit in shock as the erosion of something as dear to me as healthcare accelerates across the country.

What had been a small house accommodating 35 beds has now grown into a massive structure of research, patient care and bureaucracy. As a polio survivor, my time there was but a small blip on the evolving timeline of healthcare but it did wonders for kids surviving the many polio epidemics of the day. The vaccine didn’t come along until 1955 so that hospital became home, school and medical centre for so many of the survivors. It was designed to be a “home” since the community knew nothing about inclusion and the “mind set” of residential schools was strong.

An old picture depicting the "newest" incarnation of the day for the Junior Red Cross Hospital for Crippled Children opened in 1955 bringing the bed count to 110.  The pointer in the upper right corner identified the room I was in most, 311
The arrow indicates the room I spend so much of my youth in.

It was also at a time when nurses trained in hospitals and obtained most of their education working in the hospital. Student nurses probably made up about a third of the staffing (they also attended classes on-site) however nursing was considered a “calling” then, not a profession. Nursing was “regulated” into a profession in the late 70’s and by the mid 80’s nursing became a very expensive university program. Interesting point here, in the mid 80’s the chair person for the nursing curriculum design was always the past president of the Alberta Medical Association so even then doctors controlled what nurses could learn.

All hospitals of the day had to go through an accreditation process and scored higher points for “degreed” nurses than hospital trained nurses. Higher accreditation points, an expensive and intensive process, meant access to more funding and increased research opportunities. Nurses weren’t coming out of university with (back then) a $30,000 plus student loan just to wipe some patients ass. Every nurse graduating wanted an administrators position and by-pass bedside care. With a high enough accreditation score a hospital could reach a five year accreditation rather than a two year, all the better. Healthcare was becoming a system of ticks and professionals. Lost in that whole thing was the level of patient care Canadians had grown accustom to since the introduction of a universal healthcare system, introduced in 1966 thanks to Tommy Douglas.

Holy Cross ID badge from my ten years as a mental health therapist in the 80's
I used my middle name (Allan) while working in psychiatry for most of the 80’s

After growing up in healthcare I spend almost fifteen years of my career working in mental health which included eleven years at the Holy Cross Hospital in Calgary. I was a therapist, a union activist for the United Nurses of Alberta (pre Alberta Health Services “AHS”) and all around busy member of the community. I was also a two year grad from Mount Royal College but by the mid 80’s, again due to accreditation, it was “suggested” I go back to University to get my social work degree. I would receive credit for my Mount Royal time plus work experience at the Holy and complete the degree in a two year period. Again more “ticks” on the hospital accreditation form for university grad social workers than the two year ones from Mount Royal. The BSW (Bachelor of Social Work) was a relatively new program at the time having graduated their first social work class in 1972.

By that point in my life I had worked in Vancouver, Toronto and a brief stint in Halifax so finding work had never been an issue for me. For a guy on crutches I had never had a hard time finding employment. I was also a bit head strong rebel with ten years of exceptional yearly evaluations at the Holy Cross, at a time where raises were based on “measurable” job outcomes so positive reviews were needed.

I had dealt with enough university grads by that point to know a “piece of paper” wasn’t going to make me a better therapist. I had already dealt with too many university grads who understood learning but were completely lost when it came to “applying” that knowledge. I refused to invest in a piece of expensive paper doing something I was already pretty good at and didn’t feel like “playing the political game” of sucking up to the right professors to make my way through university. I had already taken numerous courses at the University of Calgary but the idea of going back full-time just didn’t sit right with me. It was time for a career change.

My whole point here is I knew healthcare from almost every angle so I really didn’t see the need to run up a student debt just to appease a system that, at the time (Klein years) was pretty clear was about to be dismantled. Healthcare had been so successful meeting the needs of the community of the day they had worked themselves out of careers. Policy replaced people and regulations trumped experience.

So now to hear the potential front runner as the leader of the UCP, Danielle Smith, (no healthcare background what so ever) talk about “firing AHS” staff and accusing the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta operating in a lawless manner during a pandemic, I personally find repulsive. The hypocrisy of this women making accusations like this while pushing her agenda for an Alberta Sovereignty Act so Alberta can ignore the laws of the land have pushed me to my limits. Time to start taking a stronger position and speak out more. Remember this folk’s when the provincial election comes around next year (2023). She’s already betrayed one political party and the retired from politics, after crossing the floor from her position as the Wild Rose party, before seeing her opportunity to make a comeback. If you really think she has your best interests at heart and with the future of an already anaemic healthcare system on the line, then Canada, as we knew it, is lost.

Rant over but I will be back…


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