Preventative maintenance

By Mike Leung

In the anticlimactic atmosphere surrounding the Alberta government’s recently released report on health care, there seems to be agreement on only one thing: the system needs to be changed. The report was not the expected epic clash between the federal and provincial governments, nor did it stoke the two-tier fire familiar to all Canadians.

Nonetheless, there is one idea that A Framework for Reform–the title of the report–calls the "heart of its recommendations:" the need to stay healthy. This idea deserves our attention above and beyond the amount it is currently receiving. It is an idea on which we could base an entire health care system, with or without private elements. It is also an idea Roy Romanow is enamoured with–Romanow is the former Saskatchewan Premier charged with reshaping Canada’s health-care system.

Evangeline, P.E.I., is a rural town of 3,000 people. To handle the health needs of the area, a modest operation of a few specialists runs out of the Evangeline Community Health Centre. The centre doesn’t have MRI machines, the latest drugs or any other expensive treatments or technology. So what does the Evangeline Centre have to do with anything?

Very little, except for the fact Romanow himself paid special attention to the approach the Evangeline Centre applies, an approach that is fundamentally based on prevention and education. Upon the centre’s opening in 1996, a National Post story explains that the centre’s staff took the preventative approach from the get go. "It forged programs in the community, such as smoking cessation, parenting, exercise classes and school outreach," the story reads. Romanow paid a visit to the centre late last year, and says that the centre’s approach is successful. Centre representatives are also happy with their results. But Evangeline is only a drop in the bucket. Could a similar approach be applied to all of Alberta? Canada? A Framework for Reform only confirms this fact by making prevention its number one recommendation. "Making healthier choices can significantly reduce the incidence of heart disease, strokes, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and several forms of cancer," reads the report.

These healthier choices, according to the several health organizations around the country, are simple and easily accessible to all people regardless of economic status. No CAT scans required. Eat well, exercise regularly, and butt out.

So if prevention is so wonderful, why haven’t we employed it effectively?

Quite simply, preventative measures don’t show up in dollars and cents and Albertans are well educated on the rising costs of health care. Klein’s advertising campaigns have told us that the status quo will only bring us down in a fiery ball of overspending. Budgeted money spent on preventative measures like how to eat, how often to exercise, and discouraging tobacco use evaporate into thin air–they airily come back in terms of expenses saved and not revenues gained. Simply put, prevention is impossible to track financially.

So beyond the debates over the report and despite the heralds who proclaim we are on the verge of forsaking a "sacred trust," there is one recommendation we should all heed that doesn’t require Canada’s health care system to improve. Take care of your own damn self.