Statement on Auditor General’s Better Healthcare for Albertans Report

Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann released the following statement in response to the Auditor General’s report on Better Healthcare for Albertans:

“I applaud the Office of the Auditor General for conducting this insightful and timely analysis of the root causes behind lack of progress towards the effective integration of health care in Alberta. It speaks volumes about the value of a truly independent officer of the Legislative Assembly and its ability to investigate and report directly to Albertans.

“The report clearly highlights a need to better co-ordinate our primary, acute and continuing care systems to ensure improved access to care and communication among care providers, smoother navigation through the system, and better overall health outcomes.

“We need to reduce barriers to care, involve people in their healthcare decisions, and make sure the right level and quality of care is being provided in the right place, by the right health professional at the right time.

“It is clear that much more work still needs to be done promoting wellness, injury and disease prevention, and chronic disease management. Albertans need multidisciplinary teams that are interconnected, patient-focused and follow a single, consistent care plan.

“The report also explicitly states spending more money on healthcare is not the solution. This undoubtedly means that there must be more accountability for the administrative and financial performance of our system, including physician compensation, billing, and ordering of lab and diagnostic tests.

“There is also the opportunity for innovation, better integration of clinical information systems, and use of health data analytics to inform decision-making and ensure we have the best performing public healthcare system possible.

“I share the optimism of this report. Change is not only possible, it is absolutely necessary. It is incumbent on the government of the day to embrace change, commit to honest and transparent reporting of system performance, and depoliticize healthcare funding, infrastructure projects and service delivery.

“Operating in silos has proven to be ineffective. We must work together. Alberta Health, AHS, and the all of the healthcare associations and colleges must seek to improve their communication, co-ordination and co-operation.

“Elected representatives, government officials, healthcare providers, and patients all have an important part to play in ensuring improved access, quality and sustainability of the system and making Better Healthcare for Albertans a reality.”

Dr. David Swann Member Statement, May 25th

Alberta Liberal Leader Dr. David Swann rose in the Legislature today to deliver the following statement:

“The opiate death crisis is unprecedented, ripping apart families of all socio-economic groups, including First Nations.

“The continual and dramatic increases in opioid deaths since 2013, are extremely saddening given that they are preventable. While we see increased investment it is not clear that mental health experts are leading, what the overall strategy is, and how current efforts are being evaluated since there has been no analysis and public report.

“Last year, we had 363 deaths due to fentanyl. And in the first three months of this year, 113 Albertans lost their lives, just to fentanyl – a 61% increase in deaths over the same period in 2016.

“We are starting to see the same disturbing trends here as in BC, but without acknowledging why we continue to lose ground even after 4 years. Nor have we chosen to call this a public health emergency to mobilize all related resources. This is a mistake.

“B.C.’s declaration of a public health state of emergency led to resources being mobilized through the Health Ministry across government departments and between all stakeholders in a co-ordinated plan with monthly reporting on what is working and what is not.

“Alberta struggles to report quarterly on fentanyl and other opiate deaths. BC embraced early harm reduction measures while we have yet to see a single safe injection site in Alberta.

‘Naloxone kits are undoubtedly saving lives, and the Associate Minister yesterday admitted there were 1130 life-saving doses of naloxone given in the first 3 months of this year – that’s 13 near-deaths every day in Alberta! Clearly we are not getting ahead of this devastation.

“Wait times have improved for opiate replacement therapy but outside Edmonton and Calgary people seeking help continue to wait.

“Numbers are not enough. There is a troubling lack of analysis of what changes are needed and where for an accurate picture of this epidemic.

“Strong, new leadership from a mental health and addictions expert is needed who can focus and oversee an evidence-based and coordinated plan and overcome the silos.

“This terribly stigmatized illness needs a new approach and now is the time for the government to admit its approach isn’t working.

“This is the most important and preventable public health crisis of our time and the lives of our children- all Albertans- depend on us getting this right.”

David Swann statement on 2017 first quarter opioid report, rising death toll

Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann released the following statement in response to the release of the 2017 first quarter opioid and substances of misuse report:

“The continual and dramatic increases in deaths since 2013, year-over-year and from quarter-to-quarter are extremely disturbing and saddening given that they are preventable. We are starting to see the same trends here as in British Columbia, but without our government taking the same emergency measures. This is a mistake.

“The opioid crisis requires strong, new leadership from a mental health and addictions expert who can develop and implement an evidence-based and coordinated plan that makes proper use all of the tools at the government’s disposal.

“Therefore, I am renewing my call to declare a state of emergency, and the reinstatement of the Chief Addictions and Mental Health Officer. Increased public education is also needed as well as improved access to harm reduction, including opiate replacement therapy and safe injection sites. And, we must make these resources more readily available, especially outside of our major urban areas.

“I am also troubled by the manner in which this report was made available. As was the case with the interim report, I find it highly disrespectful to concerned Albertans to release such important information without formal commentary from the Minister on a Friday afternoon, and, in this case, just ahead of a long weekend.

“It hints at an NDP government that is more concerned about biding its time, protecting its political skin, and avoiding accountability for a crisis that it clearly does not have a handle on despite its best efforts.

“With each quarterly report, we are seeing the death toll rise. Now, is the time for the government to admit its approach isn’t working, put away its pride, and join with all opposition caucuses and numerous stakeholders, and declare a state of emergency.

“Enough is enough! Our parents, children, brothers and sisters are dying around us. We must give this crisis all the resources available at our disposal if we ever hope to get ahead of this and save the lives of Albertans.”

Advocate for Persons with Disabilities must have independence from government

Alberta Liberal Leader Dr. David Swann seeks to amend Bill 205 to establish the Advocate for Persons with Disabilities as an independent officer of the legislature.

“This bill is well-intentioned, but having an advocate report to the minister reduces the office’s independence and makes its budget subject to ministerial whim,” says Swann. “A truly independent officer will have a budget set by an all-party committee and report directly to the Assembly.”

Bill 205, Advocate for Persons with Disabilities Act, proposes the creation of an advocate’s office similar to the Health, Seniors, and Mental Health Patient Advocates, all of whom report to a minister and whose funding is determined by ministry officials.

In the past, this has led to the advocates being unable to fulfill their mandates due to lack of resources. For example, in the 2014-15 Annual Report, the Alberta Mental Health Advocate explicitly stated, “The past year posed challenges to fulfill our legislative mandate in a timely manner. This was largely due to the loss of a position and the subsequent reassignment of duties, along with the Government of Alberta’s restraint measures. It had a direct impact on the number of Albertans we served and the comprehensiveness of our investigations” (pg. 4).

Instead, Swann envisions the disabilities advocate having an expanded role similar to that of the Child and Youth Advocate. This move has the support of stakeholders such as Inclusion Alberta and Calgary’s Disability Action Hall, both of whom are also proposing the creation of an independent advocate.

Swann gave notice of his intention to amend the bill, and requested he be allowed to proceed first in the debate for procedural reasons. However, the NDP did not consent. Now in order for Swann to amend the bill, the Minister of Community and Social Services must withdraw his own pre-emptive amendment, which was moved prior to Swann’s proposal.

“I certainly hope that Minister Sabir and the NDP government do the right thing and consider establishing the Advocate for Persons with Disabilities as an independent officer of the legislature,” says Swann. “That is what Albertans I’ve talked to want and expect.”

Swann asks Auditor General to investigate Pure North grants

Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann is asking the Auditor General to investigate millions of dollars in grants from Alberta Health to Pure North S’Energy Foundation for a vitamin supplement program.

In his letter to the Auditor General, Swann says recent media reports by CBC’s Charles Rusnell and Jennie Russell, as well as his own research, indicate there is a clear cause for concern. Swann is requesting the investigation into both the grant process and the effectiveness of the program itself.

“Certainly, the strong connection the former Official Administrator of Alberta Health Services had with this program while it was seeking approval raises serious questions,” says Swann. “It is definitely worth a look to see if there was a conflict of interest.

“The public also needs to be assured that millions of dollars of taxpayer money were given for the right reasons and for a program that has a demonstrated track record of improving health.”

An additional area of concern for Swann is the potential public health impacts of providing large amounts of supplements to vulnerable populations without peer review. He worries this could be seen as human trials of an unproven treatment.

“Whatever the motivations for the funding, we must not lose sight of the very real public health and ethical questions raised by the implementation of this program. We need answers.

“In the meantime, I believe the government would be prudent if it suspended further funding of the program.”

A copy of the letter can be found here.

Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann statement on the BC Provincial Election

Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann issued the following statement on the results of the British Columbia provincial election:

“While many votes remain to be counted and many decisions remain to be made, I want to extend my congratulations to Premier Christy Clark for her victory last night. This has been an exciting election and I, like many Albertans, will be watching closely in the weeks ahead.

“As close neighbours and partners in Confederation, our two provinces have many shared interests – as well as points of difference. I encourage the incoming Premier to work with our government to resolve these differences to our mutual benefit, and look forward to our shared prosperity in the coming years.”

Concerns for children remaining at Serenity’s former foster home

Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann is concerned for the safety and well-being of children remaining in the same home as Serenity.

“The latest revelation that other children remain in the same home and under the same guardianship as Serenity before her life came to a tragic end is both deeply troubling and raises serious questions as to who is responsible, why no charges have been laid, and whether these children are in danger.” says Swann. “Since we know so little about the circumstances surrounding Serenity’s death, there must be a heightened level of scrutiny by the authorities to ensure the safety and well-being of these children.”

Dr. David Swann Private Member Statement May 4th, 2017

Dr. David Swann gave the following statement on the floor of the Legislature today:

“Yesterday, I had the privilege of moderating a panel discussion on indigenous youth mental health, which was sponsored by the U of C Mathison Centre and the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

“We heard directly from youth on the Kainai Board of Education, and watched a video about the Headstrong program, which is encouraging youth to talk about the stigma related to addictions and mental illness.

“Unfortunately, this stigma is still too common among our health professionals. In fact, there is a double stigma – first, for simply being indigenous, and, second, due to addictions and mental health issues.

“Another common theme was the lack of culturally-sensitive and more holistic approaches in our mental health system.

“Several panelists spoke eloquently of how traditional practices and mentoring from elders help them to break free from depression and addictions, and regain a sense of their identity and self-worth.

“The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has identified the long history of intergenerational trauma and its lasting effect on First Nations people.

“Updates to Alberta’s curriculum should be aimed at giving all Albertans a deeper understanding of this and encouraging further participation in the reconciliation process.

“Tragically, we continue to see increasing incidence of mental illness and addictions across Alberta, including opiates and preventable deaths, now approaching two per day.

“While I commend the government for increasing investment in this area, spending alone is not the answer.

“Since 2008, and the elimination of Mental Health Board, there has been a lack of consistent leadership and coordinated planning.

“System change is very difficult without strong, sustained leadership. And, once again, I must call on the government to consider re-establishing a provincial mental health and addictions officer.

“We need immediate implementation of the recommendations from the Valuing Mental Health Report, including the long overdue reform of primary care networks and their role in mental health.

“Timely system changes will not only save lives, but they will substantially reduce health costs and boost staff morale.

“On Mental Health Week, let’s reaffirm our commitment to reducing the stigma of addictions and mental health, supporting our indigenous peoples, and showing greater leadership to address the current opioid crisis.”

Statement: One-year anniversary of the Fort McMurray wildfire

Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann released the following statement on the one-year anniversary of the Fort McMurray wildfire:

“On this day in 2016, Albertans watched in horror as Fort McMurray was engulfed by a wildfire of apocalyptic proportions. With staggering speed, a small wildfire on the banks of Horse River quickly evolved into the ‘Beast,’ which pounced on the city shortly thereafter.

“Yet through a haze of smoke and flame, Albertans witnessed a miracle. Along a single highway, the flames beating at their backs, almost 90,000 people escaped the city. The incredible heroism of our first responders saved Fort McMurray’s vital infrastructure and thousands of lives.

“One year later, the difficult task of rebuilding continues. We must remember, however, that we need to rebuild more than homes and infrastructure – we must also work to rebuild the mental health and well-being of the residents of Fort McMurray.

“The symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder can surface suddenly or emerge long after the trauma has occurred. Today, many continue to struggle with the aftereffects of the fire.

“Albertans are strong, but the strong also suffer. It is not weakness to struggle with mental health; rather, it takes great courage to ask for help managing that struggle.

“I want to remind those who are still suffering from the devastating effects of the wildfire in Fort McMurray that they are not alone. I stand with you together with all your fellow Albertans.”

Dr. David Swann statement on Mental Health Week

Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann released the following statement to mark Mental Health Week.

“The theme for this year’s Mental Health Week is ‘Sick of Waiting: Get Loud for Mental Health.’ Across the country, Canadians are calling for earlier intervention for those in distress, and action on the long waits for mental health care.

“Mental health is a critical part of our overall health, and must be properly planned and funded in our health system. At present there are still too many barriers to treatment, and too many people are unable to afford critical counselling and psychological help.

“This is also a deep concern when discussing our management of the ongoing opiate overdose crisis, which is now claiming two lives every day and cries out for focused leadership and a coordinated plan. It is unacceptable that we have few, if any, after-hours treatment facilities, leaving few alternatives to those trying to get help after hours.

“At the end of the day, however, the stigma surrounding mental health issues remains the greatest barrier to treatment. We are all responsible for making it easier for people to reach out for help, and avoid unhealthy options like drug abuse to address the pain.

Each of us can play a critical role as we reach out to offer support and speak out for better mental health services, so those who are suffering know they are not alone and that help is available.