5 surprises from Alberta's queue-jumping inquiry
H1N1 vaccinations, hospital VIPs and the Calgary Flames discussed at inquiry
Posted: Jan 21, 2013 1:24 PM MT
Last Updated: Jan 21, 2013 1:22 PM MT
Alberta is holding a public inquiry into whether some patients were given preferential access to the province’s health-care system.
Premier Alison Redford ordered the queue-jumping inquiry after a report by the Alberta Health Quality Council on problems with the province's $16-billion health-care system. Retired Judge John Vertes is heading the inquiry, which is on hold until Feb. 19. A report must be submitted to Speaker Gene Zwozdesky no later than April 30.
CBC News has rounded up some of the most interesting testimony raised so far.
1. Private clinic patients allegedly bumped up cancer screen queue
Clerks at a colon cancer screening centre in Calgary testified they were directed by doctors, nurses and supervisors to bump patients up in line in 2010 and 2011. While ordinary patients had to wait up to three years for screening at the Forzani and MacPhail Centre, the favoured patients were referred, examined and treated within months, according to testimony. The head of the screening centre blamed his frontline staff for allowing any patients to be pushed up, arguing that booking clerks shouldn't have been doing it.
Many of those patients came from the exclusive Helios Wellness Centre, a private centre in the same building offering care to a select clientele. Two Calgary doctors told the inquiry they had heard rumours Helios was allowed to open as a reward for donors to the university. In response, the University of Calgary issued a written statement saying it doesn’t operate the clinic or Helios and won’t comment on “speculation or rumour.”
2. Off-duty nurses vaccinated family during H1N1 scare
Testimony suggests that nurses felt comfortable vaccinating people against H1N1 flu when they were off duty.
Christine Westerlund, an AHS regional manager, was in charge of one of the mass vaccination clinics in Edmonton in 2009. She told the inquiry she knew nurses were vaccinating family members during their breaks at the clinics. She says at the time, there was no policy against the process.
Nurse Susan Smith testified the day after a shortage of the vaccine forced the closure of the mass vaccine clinics across the province, she went to a closed clinic in Edmonton, letting in and vaccinating about 15 people. She said she was concerned about wasting the vaccine, which she called a precious resource with a short, 24-hour shelf life. Smith said she felt she had the authorization to do it.
3. Deputy premier drove daughter of foreign worker to hospital
Alberta's deputy premier testified about driving a hurt child to an emergency room hospital.
Thomas Lukaszuk said a woman, who was a temporary foreign worker with an expired work permit, had brought her injured daughter into Lukaszuk's Edmonton constituency office in 2009. She was concerned she would be forcefully deported if she took her daughter to the hospital.
Lukaszuk called his then Tory caucus colleague Raj Sherman, an emergency room physician who is now the leader of the Alberta Liberal Party.
Lukaszuk says Sherman offered to help, so he personally drove the girl to the emergency room at Edmonton's Royal Alexandra Hospital. Sherman met them there and took the girl into the ER. Lukaszuk said he was not trying to obtain faster access to the ER for the girl, and testified he had nothing to gain because she was not related and her family members were not eligible to vote.
4 . Flames officials allegedly offered cash and tickets for flu shots
The public health nurse who suggested a private H1N1 vaccination clinic for the Calgary Flames players and their families testified that team officials offered her cash and game tickets for the shots, but she refused.
Public health nurse Michelle Bosch said she didn't want the players to show up at one of the city's four public clinics in 2009, for fear the NHL players would be a distraction and a side-show.
Bosch testified someone at Alberta Health Services approved the plan and provided 200 doses of the H1N1 vaccine — four times the amount originally requested. She said she was surprised to hear the next day that public clinics were being shutdown because of a shortage of the vaccine and was shocked by the public reaction and ensuing media coverage.
5. Some Alberta patients considered VIPs
A Calgary health executive testified she used to receive calls to check up on VIP patients and was once asked to help out a member of former premier Ralph Klein's inner circle.
Janice Stewart, the executive director of surgery at Calgary’s Rockyview General Hospital, told Alberta's queue-jumping inquiry she refused to help out each time either because it wasn't medically safe or because it wasn't ethical.
A former CEO with the Capital Health Region, Sheila Weatherill, also testified she called senior hospital officials to alert them of certain patients who would be coming to their facilities.
MLAs would often call her directly seeking help in navigating the health-care system, she said. In most cases, Weatherill said they wanted help for constituents, but occasionally it would be for themselves. She also said she would get calls about certain patients heading to a specific hospital. She said she would call senior hospital officials to alert them, but only to let them know of a patient's special privacy or security needs.
When challenged by the inquiry's lawyer if she was seeking special medical care for those patients, Weatherill said, "No," explaining she just wanted officials to be aware those patients would be there.
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