On Tuesday, both the United Nurses of Alberta and the Alberta Medical Association’s Section of Emergency Medicine sent letters to Chief Medical Officer of Health Mark Joffe urging him to implement temporary mask mandates and take other measures to reduce the wave respiratory infections battering children’s hospitals in Alberta.
On Wednesday at a news conference, the actual decider about public health matters, Premier Danielle Smith, delivered her response: forget about it.
The letter from UNA President Heather Smith, which was also addressed to Premier Smith and Health Minister Jason Copping, implored the government “for the sake of Alberta’s children, and all Albertans” to “cease treating this situation as if it were a political inconvenience and address it immediately as the public health crisis that it is.”
“The simplest and most effective policy change that could be implemented immediately would be an indoor mask mandate to reduce the spread of influenza, COVID-19 and respiratory syncytial virus,” Heather Smith wrote. “However, even a strong statement acknowledging that wearing masks in indoor public spaces and limiting the size and number of public gatherings attended this holiday season could have a beneficial effect.”
Stating that the current situation “has become truly dire,” the letter to Dr. Joffe from Dr. Arun Abbi, president of the AMA’s Section of Emergency Medicine, and Dr. Warren Thirsk, president-elect, urged the CMOH to immediately implement seven recommendations. These included the mask mandate, better air filtration in schools, and more messaging saying influenza and COVID-19 vaccines are safe.
“There is a very real cost to not acting immediately,” they warned. “The cost will be paid by the increased suffering of many Albertans, including our vulnerable children …” Not to mention health care workers, they added.
“We are extremely concerned that without strong public health mitigation strategies, the suffering will worsen, preventable deaths will occur, and we may see our workforce attrition continue to the point where safe and timely acute care is no longer available to many Albertans.”
Premier Smith was having none of it.
Responding to a question from a reporter about the UNA letter during Wednesday’s news conference, she started with a pro forma declaration of her respect for nurses, but soon made it clear that didn’t mean she was going to listen to what they had to say.
“I always appreciate the input from our front-line workers,” she summed up, “but we do support choice.”
That is, of course, the choice to infect others with a dangerous ailment if, basically, you feel like it. That is what the United Conservative Party base and the Take Back Alberta group that now controls the party demand, after all.
So, “the best current scientific evidence, recently endorsed by our Pediatric Speciality colleagues,” as Doctors Abbi and Thirsk put it, will be ignored.
Premier Smith didn’t bother to answer Heather Smith’s request, mentioned by the reporter in her question, for Dr. Joffe to make an appearance and speak for himself about the current crisis.
But why not? She has already made it clear through her dismissal of Dr. Joffe’s predecessor, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, that chief medical officers of health who do their jobs and express opinions other than those of the government will not be in their positions for long.
The news conference at which Premier Smith made these comments was called to tell the public not to worry about Emergency Medical Services, which seem to be in a state of chaos at the same time as the province’s children’s hospitals, because they’ll soon be augmented by “non-clinical transports for patients who do not require medical support during transport.”
In fact, Alberta Health Services does this now, with properly equipped and professionally driven vans for non-emergency patient transfers. So the idea cannot be dismissed out of hand.
But what Premier Smith, Health Minister Copping, AHS Administrator John Cowell and other officials trotted out for the news conference and press release in many cases appears to be dumping recovering patients into taxis and ride-sharing services like Uber and telling them to make their own way home.
Like the proverbial penny, Lyle Oberg is back
Like that proverbial penny, Lyle Oberg is back again.
An Order in Council yesterday named Dr. Oberg, who will be 63 in 18 days, as a public member of the council of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta until Dec. 20, 2025.
A physician by profession, Dr. Oberg is best known as the Progressive Conservative MLA for Strathmore-Brooks who was named minister of education (styled, in those days, minister of larnin’) by Ralph Klein in 1999. During his tenure in that job, teachers were awarded a 14-per-cent pay increase but school boards only got a 6-per-cent funding increase, proving again that for Conservatives math can be hard. No matter, untroubled, Premier Ed Stelmach later made him minister of finance.
In 2006, Dr. Oberg was kicked out of the PC Caucus for failing to urge party members in his riding to support Mr. Klein’s leadership review. He was readmitted three months later.
Dr. Oberg dropped out of politics in 2008 and, in 2011 announced he was unhappy with the creation of Alberta Health Services and publicly quit the PCs, transferring his loyalties to the Wildrose Party, then led by Danielle Smith.
He later worked for a cannabis production company.
NOTE: I hope readers will forgive me if I take a few days to relax over the winter holiday. A Merry Christmas to all! AlbertaPolitics.ca will be back soon … possibly sooner than I expect if something really crazy happens in the next few days.