An emotional Raj Sherman met with media after a four-hour caucus meeting Thursday morning where the Conservative Alberta MLA was challenged over his criticism of the government's failure to cut wait times at emergency wards.
"It was a heart-wrenching meeting," he told reporters at Government House. "We all put our hearts on the table. There was lots of tears shed. We had grown men cry in that room."
Sherman said he had been on the verge of quitting as parliamentary assistant for health over the ER issue but changed his mind after a two-hour meeting with Premier Ed Stelmach on Wednesday.
Sherman, a former emergency room doctor, said his father has been taken to hospital emergency rooms five times in recent months and one of those times, almost died in a waiting room.
He told reporters his family asked him to quit politics.
"Because my dad's suffering, my mother, my children, my brothers have had a very hard time of it," Sherman said. "And they said to me, 'Raj, you haven't made a difference. Things are worse than they were when you ran.'
"'We want you to resign your seat and get back to looking after your children and your dad. We're sick and tired of seeing him wait metres from care.'"
He said he first offered to resign while speaking with Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky three weeks ago.
"I said ‘Gene, you know I'm going through a tough time. I've got my doctor colleagues; they're going public. And I've got my father. He's sick and been in hospital, and to be honest, listen, he didn't get upstairs to an in-hospital bed'."
Trust in premier 'severely tarnished'
In an email to Conservative colleagues sent prior to his meeting with Stelmach, Sherman said his trust in the premier and the government was "severely tarnished" over the ER issue. He accused Stelmach of breaking a promise to fix problems in emergency rooms.
But after the caucus meeting Thursday, Sherman seemed to revise his opinion and credited his government colleagues with working hard on health care issues.
"As a government, we have funded health care more than any other government in the country in the biggest economic downturn," he said.
But he promised he will continue to criticize the way health care is delivered in the province.
"We have crises and disasters happening in the front lines," Sherman said.
"It is simply unacceptable to have sick people leaving the emergency department without treatment. It is unacceptable to have sick people sitting on ambulance stretchers metres from care when they are very ill, suffering.
Sherman was elected as MLA for Edmonton-Meadowlark in 2008 and is the only medical doctor in the Stelmach government.
"I know my children and my family aren't happy sometimes with decisions my government's made," he said. "But we're all parents, and we're all children, and we're all fathers and mothers in that room, and today, we all talked as human beings in that room and not as politicians."
Province to hold urgent meeting on ER crisis
Sherman's comments come as the Stelmach government prepares to meet with medical officials in Edmonton Friday about ways to prevent a backlog of patients in the province's ERs.
According to a draft document released Wednesday by the Wildrose Alliance party, measures up for discussion include scheduling more doctors during evening hours and bumping stabilized patients out of acute care beds to make room for urgent cases.
The party's health critic, Heather Forsyth, calls this document proof the system is in chaos and blames Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky for not providing the necessary leadership to fix the problems.
But Zwozdesky insists he is working with health officials to improve things in emergency rooms.
"That's why I've also asked them to ensure that the docs are more involved in the day-to-day running of those protocols," he said. "Because the docs are telling me that they don't feel as involved as they would like to, and so, I've asked Alberta Health Services to ensure they would be."
But Forsyth said Zwozdesky always talks about opening continuing care and rehabilitation beds when the focus should be on opening more acute care beds to ease pressure on emergency rooms.