By Samantha Johnson
Privatization of healthcare is well underway in Alberta. Details of contracts the Alberta Government is making with private, for-profit companies will never be made public. One thing is certain, even with a change in government during the next election, we will be stuck with these companies for years to come.
Chris Gallaway, Friends of Medicare Executive Director, stated, “we have a Premier, for now, who signed the Public Healthcare Guarantee to get elected and as soon as he got in, he started privatizing throughout the healthcare system. Albertans should be concerned about where this is going and how they are locking in these contracts.”
Laundry and food services throughout the province have already been privatized. This might not seem like a big deal to many people, except it was only the first step. Ophthalmology was privatized about a month ago, so now all cataract surgeries, among other things, will be done in private clinics.
There are now plasma clinics in Alberta where you can get paid to donate your blood plasma. “What they are is actually private, for-profit, pay-for-plasma collection centres,” explained Gallaway, “where Albertans can get paid for donating their blood plasma, rather than through the Canadian Blood Services voluntary collection system – the company then sells the plasma into the US market at a profit. Pay-for-plasma clinics were illegal in Alberta until the UCP government allowed a private members bill (from UCP MLA Tany Yoa) to pass permitting them. Since then, a company called Canadian Plasma Resources have opened sites in Edmonton and Calgary, with plans to expand to Red Deer and elsewhere, undermining our public collection system.” For more information go to https://bloodwatch.org/provinces/alberta/
There is a contract out right now for a private company to take over public home care. A committee is in place to look at options to solve the EMS crisis with private, for profit, companies sitting on it. One of the key budget announcements this year was the Alberta Surgical Initiative, which will move surgeries to private, for-profit surgical centres.
“Throughout the healthcare system they are looking for those pieces they can carve off, it is our government’s priority and ideology. It isn’t about providing better care, it’s not about saving money, it’s about looking for those profit opportunities for the companies who are bidding on the contracts,” explained Gallaway.
Next up, with a contract that has already been awarded to DynaLIFE, are labs. Not all of them though, only the high-volume ones that will produce a profit. Remote and rural labs will remain with Alberta Public Labs (APL), a sub-entity of AHS. The turnover to DynaLIFE has been delayed as the company will not in a position to take over the labs until the fall due to staffing and other issues.
“It’s the high-volume sites they are taking over,” said Gallaway. “Most rural and remote community labs will be staying with APL because they aren’t profitable. The only reason they are going to take over our labs is because they want to make a profit off it, so the province is going to keep the low volume services and take a loss on those while giving the profitable contract to DynaLIFE.”
Those will be guaranteed profits, using Alberta’s healthcare dollars to do our lab work and taking away any control we have over our lab capacity. It is confusing, since APL doesn’t make money doing the lab work, so now 10-20% of what is being spent on lab work will go toward DynaLIFE’s profit margin.
“These companies are only doing this work because they can make a profit off it, and they will demand contracts that ensure that. We are seeing that pattern through the privatization of healthcare across the board. The reason they exist is to make money, so they aren’t going to do it out of the goodness of their heart, and we are quite concerned about what it means for the long term,” said Gallaway.
Saskatchewan privatized surgeries a decade ago, the exact same model the Alberta Surgical Initiative is proposing. The wait list shortened for a couple of years, but now it is back to being the worst in Canada. Recently, a Saskatchewan woman paid $20K to jump the queue and have her joint surgery done in Calgary because she’d been waiting so long. Thus, privatization in Saskatchewan did not deliver on the promises the private companies or government made, yet Alberta is proposing to follow the same model.
“When you look at somewhere like Australia,” stated Gallaway, “where they have private hospitals, they said we will fire everyone and shutdown if the government didn’t bail them out during Covid to use the facilities.” The Health Minister stated recently in a press conference the contracts are long term with guaranteed volume, making it sound like our surgeries, lab work and general health is nothing more than a commodity to sell to the highest bidder.
The Alberta Government is “locking us into these contracts,” said Gallaway, “so even with a new election it would be very hard for us to take public control of the healthcare system again.”
A 400-page email exchange was revealed by the NDP opposition, which made it very clear the Government and Health Minister are set on this path. This despite concerns by the Head of Surgical Care and others within AHS, who feel this is not the right step for Alberta to take. “It has nothing to do with good healthcare and everything about finding places where they can use our dollars to facilitate private profits,” concluded Gallaway.
For more information, go to http://www.friendsofmedicare.org. All releases regarding privatization of healthcare are under the NEWS tab at the top of the page.