Opposition cries foul as advocate for private care named to oversee health region in wake of scandal
A Calgary-based expert with a long history of advocating private, for-profit health care will oversee a disgraced health region east of the city in the wake of a sterilization scandal.
Premier Ed Stelmach said he approves of appointing Jim Saunders, who ran a company offering private hospital services, as head of the East Central Health Authority following the firing of their health board.
“His experience will be invaluable, in terms of bringing forward the kind of leadership we need in that region,” Stelmach said. “I have a tremendous amount of confidence in him.”
Jim Saunders of J.L. Saunders and Associates will act as an official administrator for the health authority, along with Deputy Health Minister Paddy Meade, after sterilization concerns forced 3,000 former patients near Vegreville, Alta., to be tested for HIV and hepatitis.
“Every time we seem to find a crack in what is a good health-care system, the Tories want to plug it up with somebody that’s a proponent of private health care,” said Liberal health critic Laurie Blakeman.
Government officials were unable to disclose the financial cost of hiring his private consulting firm to manage the region. Saunders was unavailable for further comment yesterday.
Health Minister Dave Hancock announced the appointment of Saunders moments after the Health Quality Council of Alberta released a report on widespread infection control concerns — including tap water being used to sterilize equipment throughout the entire health region.
The 66-page report discovered that a “culture of frugality” led to huge compromises in hospital sanitation, with equipment being reused after a quick wipe and staff lacking adequate training in contamination risks.
New Democrat Leader Brian Mason said the government has a legacy of neglect in terms of safety, placing unqualified political appointments in charge of health care delivery.
“It’s great to call in experts once the damage is done, but when you leave the operation of our health system in the hands of political appointees who don’t necessarily have the skills that are necessary, you’re creating a formula for further problems,” he said.
Stelmach hinted yesterday that further firings will be coming in the health region, but he stressed that the government has taken necessary steps to prevent the infections risks from being repeated elsewhere.
“Clearly, as a province, as a department of health, we’re going to take back the responsibilities in terms of patient safety and infection control,” he said. “We’re going to move quickly in that direction.”