There is a soul-searching human drama in Montreal involving a deceased person and his family. It is a story about one individual and a health care system that might have killed him. I knew the individual from my early days at CBC, and his haunting story caught my attention. It should catch everyone’s attention.
Mark Blandford was a star producer who made films in French and English about politics in Quebec. He was so smart, so accomplished, and for a pisher like me in the ‘70s, the ground shook when he walked by. He died suddenly in November at 73.
He went to the emergency room at St. Mary’s Hospital in Montreal with severe abdominal pain. He needed surgery, but the attending surgeon said Blandford needed to be taken to the new super-hospital – the McGill University Health Centre – instead. He died before he made it to the operating room.
The surgeon followed new regulations recently set by the Quebec government. The surgery Blandford needed was no longer to be done at St. Mary’s. It is called “streamlining for efficiency,” but this is not about cutting at the edges. Quebec is revolutionizing the health care system to make affordable.
Premier Philippe Couillard, who was a neurosurgeon before entering politics, is making a serious effort to curtail public spending because there is no more money – just more and more public debt. There is just no way to squeeze more dollars for health care or, for that matter, anything else.
There are young doctors throughout Quebec who will finish their residencies this year, but have no job prospects in Quebec. Quebecers might need more doctors for its aging population, but the system can’t afford to pay them.
Doctors’ licences in Quebec are regulated by government, and the government says a new doctor can only be hired when one retires. Can you imagine how many older doctors are semi-retired? Is it any wonder Quebecers can’t find family doctors. As for specialists – because they get paid more, new specialists’ prospects are even worse.
The young, hustling doctors are being told they are not wanted. So, while they apply to other provinces and countries for employment, the system remains unable to offer the level of care that is needed. It is a vicious circle: the reality of the need, and the reality of no money to pay for it.
It is hard to tell if the Quebec government should be applauded for fiscal integrity or scorned for insensitivity. Here, on this side of the Ottawa River, we know Ontario’s situation is a heartbeat away from Quebec’s. Looking at the recent Ontario budget, you could argue Ontario is already broke, but the government won’t admit it.
Quebecers are asking themselves what the end game is. Why, they ask, is the government killing the system? There are those who suspect the government is forcing those who can afford it to pay for more and more of their own health care. It is called private medicine, which already exists in many places across the country, even though our politicians pretend otherwise. Private medicine is like everyone’s dirty little secret.
But, while it may be perfectly understandable to see an expansion of private health care services, we seem to be culturally and financially light years away from private hospitals and private emergency rooms. So, when you a need emergency surgery, but are refused for administrative reasons, and you die, is there anyone listening?
What Ontario can perhaps look forward to is depressing.
My father was recently hospitalized in Montreal. On a Saturday night, he was sitting on a chair next to his bed and needed help to get up and into bed. He rang his bell for an hour-and-a-half, but no one came.
He reached for the phone and called my brother who went to the hospital and helped him. On his way out, he passed the nursing station and politely asked how that could happen. He was told very few people were scheduled to work on the floor on Saturday nights.
The nurse told my brother he could do something to help them. “Please write Premier Couillard,” she said, “and tell him what happened.”