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Restricting message does not serve public

Posted on September 24, 2014 by Taber Times

Carefully crafted statements are what we have come to expect from many levels of government.

It is akin to a corporate communications department at a large multinational company, with a team of wordsmiths dedicated to toeing the company line and portraying their employer in the best possible light. It can border on the absurd, however, when only a few people at the top of the communications chain are the stewards of information distribution for the entire operation.

Such appears to be the case with Alberta Health Services (AHS). As a restructuring took place, and power was shifted from local decision makers at the regional level to the organization’s ill-fated superboard, the flow of information was restricted along with it.
It was 2008 when the nine health regions, including Chinook Health in this area, were disbanded. Before that time, local board members were free to comment on matters which impacted their region. There were issues of local importance, issues people living in each area were most qualified to speak about.

That system also brought with it a sense of accountability, as citizens in those health regions had a group of people available to address their questions and concerns. Much like a municipality’s elected officials, board members who represented their respective areas had a stake in what was going on inside the borders of their health regions.

Of course, that system no longer exists. There are avenues for public feedback, and public participation, with meetings of the Oldman River Health Advisory Council, held periodically throughout the region, as one example. More and more, however, it seems information is being carefully controlled by a small collection of officials within the ranks of AHS. In today’s age of political correctness, social media overload and the speed and quickness with which information can be spread and quickly distorted, it is easy to see how corporate entities prefer this method. Managing your message, and ensuring that message is delivered in a proper and consistent format, has become increasingly important.

That is all well and good, but when that translates into a lack of useful, tangible information being provided on issues of local interest, that is when problems arise. In situations of great public interest, such as rural ambulance wait times, brought to light again earlier this month with calls from Wildrose’s Cardston-Taber-Warner MLA Gary Bikman for improvements to the dispatch system, the public deserves an explanation. Criticism was levelled towards the system last when a Stirling teen waited 80 minutes to be transferred from Raymond to Lethbridge, after he suffered severe head trauma.

There could be a perfectly plausible explanation for this — the public has just not heard one yet from AHS. Certainly, it is not uncommon for organizations such as AHS to refuse comment on specific cases such as this — it happens with school boards, municipalities and various other entities when controversial and potentially litigious issues are being dealt with. More and more, however, the release of information of great interest to the public is being filtered and restricted. Most understand the restrictions officials are under when taking into account legal and privacy issues but in the case of the Stirling teen, for example, AHS officials had an opportunity to explain how the rural ambulance system actually works. Arming them with the correct information would help locals better understand all the factors in play, and perhaps avoid a similar situation from happening again.

Questions and concerns have been raised for years regarding the delivery of ambulance service in rural areas, as fears persist the system simply is not performing as well as it did when there was more local control. Short, carefully crafted statements from the powers that be at AHS will do little to change that public perception.

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