Better thinking can solve some health and labour woes

Ray Maslek ponders healthcare and the labour shortage.

Provincial governments are on to one of their favourite health care topics again – putting a lid on doctors’ salaries.

I will leave it to others to debate what level of six-figure compensation is just for spending the first 30 years of your life studying and training, and the next three or four decades listening to people complain while looking at naked parts of their bodies better left clothed.

However, one measure of  reasonableness – whether you are talking proctologists or plumbers, teachers or typists – is how long the line-up is to get into the club.

Another aspect of health care that is of concern to governments is efficiency – how to wring more service out the system to slow the rate of growth of the mountain of tax dollars needed to support it.

But my first extensive experience with the system as a patient has me wondering not about the efficient use of medical personnel and facilities but rather of the patients themselves, who are the system’s primary inputs and outputs.

After presenting my complaint to my general practitioner, the usual battery of tests and specialist visits followed over the ensuing months. This all culminated with a diagnosis and prescribed course of treatment, which makes me luckier than those whose problems are beyond the limits of  current medical science.

The service I received from doctors, nurses, technicians and administrative staff was polite, skilled and, where needed, caring. Ironically, the one problematic experience was the only test I actually had to pay for. This involved multiple visits to the hospital, disappearing or garbled data, and finally a trip to Nelson to have the test redone one more time.

Since I am retired and the hospital is nearby, none of this was a burden to me. But I wonder about people who have to book time off work and drive in from Thrums or beyond for each and every test and appointment.

Computers have for decades been able to track thousands of airline flights each day and, with a few keystrokes, steer customers through this maze to their destination with the fewest stops possible.

Why can’t similar technology be put to work when multiple tests are ordered for a patient?

With a much-discussed labour shortage looming, more efficient use of both the health care system’s and its patients time would make some contribution to solving the problem.


As for that labour shortage, it clearly hasn’t hit this region yet as the latest figures indicate that the unemployment topped 10 per cent last month.

The federal government is looking to do something about the paradox of some employers begging for workers while too many people are unemployed by changing employment insurance rules to push claimants into jobs they are not keen to take. (“We have no openings for carpenters, but there are entry-level positions for chicken pluckers.”)

At the same time, the Harperites intend to revamp immigration policies to focus on skilled people to fill all those jobs designing and building the next bitumen extraction and processing project in Alberta.

This looks like a new kind of colonialism. While England and Germany can probably spare a few engineers and pipefitters, I don’t foresee a stampede of skilled people from developed nations arriving in Canada.

Instead it will be developing and underdeveloped nations like India and Nigeria that will be tapped, places that can ill afford to train and lose skilled people to the first world economies.

Meanwhile, Selkirk College is being forced to cut university transfer courses to balance its budget, making post-secondary education less affordable to local students who will have to relocate to larger centres earlier than planned.

When my peasant grandparents stumbled ashore early in the last century, no one asked them how many years of education they had or sent them home at the end of the farming season to await a chance to return as a migrant worker the following year.

They cleaned steam engine boilers, failed at farming rocky pieces of ground, and persevered at whatever other jobs they could find while building a better future for their children and grandchildren.

Canadian governments and corporations should be training more people rather than simply looking to poach them from elsewhere. Gordon Lightfoot once sang of how, “to this verdant country they came from all around.

“They sailed upon her waterways and they walked the forest tall

And they built the mines, the mills and the factories for the good of us all.”

Since then, the world has gotten a lot smaller. Some days our vision seems to have shrunken as well.

Raymond Masleck is a retired Trail Times reporter.