Watching Vultures Circle Over Alberta’s Health Care

Michael Nabert
9 min readSep 18, 2021

This is what it looks like when public goods collapse, and it’s not an accident.

Photo by Ramiro Pianarosa on Unsplash

This is the moment that we’ve been warned about since the beginning of the pandemic: when we don’t only have to worry about deaths from Covid-19, but also that no ICU beds will be available for someone arriving at the hospital from a car accident or with a heart attack. Until now, people who oppose pandemic restrictions have been increasing the mortality rate from Covid itself. Moving forward, they will also be increasing the mortality rate from almost everything else as hospitals start to turn patients away.

Hospitals in Alberta, strained beyond capacity, are about to be forced to enact a triage protocol for the first time in their operating history. That’s what you call it when you can’t provide the care that every patient needs, so you have to make tough calls about who to try to save and who gets turned away without care. Unless they’ve personally served with the military in a foreign war zone, the doctors about to face this nightmare haven’t ever experienced such a thing in their entire professional careers. On the heels of eighteen months of unprecedented trauma, it’s yet more additional trauma.

If we’re being honest, however, the pandemic was already worsening other health risks months ago as procedures like cancer testing fell behind. It will be hard to know how many preventable deaths weren’t prevented because testing that might have caught cancers early simply never took place.

Hospitals in Alberta have scrambled to add additional beds to their ICUs as their fourth wave of Covid gains momentum. It’s not enough. One problem is that adding new beds won’t help much if you don’t also have the well trained staff and equipment necessary to properly care for people filling those beds. Another is the fact that a relentless focus on cost cutting in the name of efficiency had steadily shrunk Canada’s capacity from 6.75 hospital beds per thousand citizens in 1980 down to only 2.52 in 2019, half of the World Health Organization recommended minimum, even before Covid came along. A third is the right wing ideology that’s hostile to quality health care which is currently embodied by Alberta’s premier Jason Kenney.

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Michael Nabert

Researching a road map from our imperilled world into one with a livable future with as much good humour as I can muster along the way.