Consumer advocate cautions voters on politicians using “creative language” on health care in upcoming election

EDMONTON - With a provincial election expected this spring, voters are going to be wooed by politicians using "creative language" to promise improved health care when they're elected, consumer advocate Wendy Armstrong said Saturday.

But they won't tell you what will suffer because of those changes, because promises aren't always kept, she said.

"I don't think you can hold people accountable, whatever party they're with, after an election ... unless you have strong opposition. Otherwise, everything goes behind closed doors."

Armstrong made the comments after taking part in a panel discussion at a conference looking beyond acute health care hosted by the Alberta Federation of Labour, Public Interest Alberta, and a coalition of seniors' organizations.

She wasn't the only participant expressing concern. Ryan Geake, who works with adults with disabilities in Calgary, told more than 300 delegates a set of policies called the Community Inclusion Framework disappeared from the government's website sometime in the last six months.

The policies, which outlined what the lives and services of disabled Albertans should be, had been agreed upon by disabled groups, community groups, parents, families and the government, he said.

"This is gone and no one will tell us where it's gone, so if you want to destroy a system, I think I'm learning the very first step is to destroy the values of that system that were said to be important and take them away so people don't have a way to discuss what's going on."

He also said the IQ level at which people with a developmental disability can receive services was changed, making it harder for some to qualify.

"It's another great way to do some cost containment in this province on the backs of disabled folks."

However, after an uproar the move was amended so it wouldn't affect people already receiving services, he said.

But Armstrong said many people are afraid to speak up about such issues.

"There have been times when I've been afraid to speak up too, and this is wrong. We need to have these discussions out in the open. People shouldn't be punished for speaking out in public."

Government officials couldn't be reached for comment.

Speakers mentioned the Health Quality Council of Alberta report released last week, which detailed how the creation of Alberta Health Services in 2008 led to confusion and widespread instances of physician intimidation and muzzling.

The government is expected to release details this week about a judicial inquiry into the report's findings.

Edmonton Journal, Sat Feb 25 2012
Byline: Chris Zdeb

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