Rural 911

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There’s something all those 110,000 folks beavering away for Alberta Health Services instinctively understand. That is their allotted place on the org chart.

Forget about Hippocratic oaths and duties of care. Such highfalutin phrases are simply gloss lipstick on this enormous pig of a department – the largest such organization in Canada. What matters, above everything else, is where you sit in your own organizational structure – dutifully charted from time to time and then sent out to all your co-workers. Simply put, to whom you report and, more importantly, who reports to you.

It goes beyond simple salary implications, although those issues aren’t to be sniffed at with the province doling out more than $20-billion a year on health care with about 60 per cent of that mind-boggling amount being sucked up by wages.

No, this is about power in its most sweetly passive aggressive form. The more people whose names have dotted lines reaching up to yours, like that hand of a waterlogged Jack vainly stretching out to Rose after that Hollywood-inspired Titanic sank, then the more smug you feel. And the fewer strands emanating upwards from your own moniker on such a chart the happier you are.

If you think I’m wrong then, after a few well-timed glasses of vino, blurt out ‘org chart’ to such nice people then watch the lips parse and their pupils narrow. Suddenly we see a full-on fighting mode from those who’d normally think a Glasgow kiss was some cute form of Scottish affection.

That once famous Brit, Cecil Rhodes, would be impressed with such relentless empire building and the upshot for ordinary Albertans can be seen in the never-ending push to make AHS bigger, though not actually better.

When the last government amalgamated the various regional authorities into one gigantic entity that was merely the start. Alberta’s laboratory services had to come along for the ride, together with a veritable slew of boards and agencies.

Now the latest bunch to be fed into this endlessly hungry maw are those toiling with EMS – ambulances for the acronym-challenged among us.

As always the siren call of those who’d really love more people reporting to them on a soon-to-be-updated org chart, is that such consolidation will be more efficient and cost-effective. Rarely does this actually happen, which is among the reasons that constant blather about ‘bending the curve’ on ever-increasing health costs is a waste of hot air.

The latest local group to cry foul of this endless amalgamation is Foothills Regional Emergency Services Commission, which wants Health Minister Sarah Hoffman to reinstate local EMS dispatch as locals are at risk.

“Albertans living in the southern, rural communities of our province are paying the price for a model that has fragmented the emergency response system,” is how the commission puts it.

Not long ago local ambulances and fire departments worked in unison answering calls in communities. Now the EMS part of that equation has been usurped by the province-wide authority of AHS. What could go wrong with that?

Well, not long ago similar worries were expressed after EMS first responders were forced to use a province-wide, $370-million radio network instead of the local systems often shared with the neighbouring fire department. As both services often attended the same accident scenes that original system made sense.

Ah, but don’t worry. There’s an obvious solution to these issues – one that would once again reunite such services.

It’s simple: AHS should absorb all Alberta’s fire and police departments – heck, the feds could even throw in the Mounties, maybe in lieu of some stalled pipeline approval.

Then just imagine the glorious new org charts such a move could ignite.

Chris Nelson is a long-time journalist. His columns on Alberta politics run monthly in the St. Albert Gazette.

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St. Albert Gazette

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