WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ
Premier Ed Stelmach said he was impressed by the commitment of the sisters who ran his home-town hospital when he was a boy.
EDMONTON – Premier Ed Stelmach praised the work of Covenant Health and hinted his government may shape new health care legislation on some of the values this Catholic organization embraces.
Speaking at the annual meeting of Covenant Health at Westin Hotel Oct. 5, Stelmach said his government would soon introduce new health care legislation "that is going to put our patients first."
"This will be legislation that will talk about the physical and mental and the spiritual health of all Albertans," the premier announced at the meeting.
Stelmach, a Catholic, said the work Covenant Health does throughout the province touches many Albertans' lives everyday.
"I know what Covenant Health does comes from the heart," he said. "This really is an organization that truly lives its values everyday. "
At the meeting, the premier recounted his own experience with Catholic health care during his childhood.
As a Grade 1 student in Andrew, Stelmach fell off a slide and broke a leg close to the hip and spent three months in hospital.
"I laid there for a couple of months until the bone healed on its own. And then I spent considerable time in a body cast.
"During that time, I learnt a lot about the commitment of the sisters. I also learnt a lot about what they did in the community other than just providing the medical care," the premier said.
"I saw people arriving in the hospital that had to deal with family issues, terminal illnesses, some surviving an accident on the farm, maybe losing a limb, which really affected their life and what they could do on the farm; it altered their life forever.
"I saw (the sisters) reaching out to the community, reaching out to those who needed help over and above running the hospital."
Stelmach said the sisters also taught him to read and write English because at the time he only spoke Ukrainian. That allowed him to go back to Grade 1, which he almost missed.
What impressed Stelmach, as he looked back, was the fact the hospital was run almost entirely on a volunteer basis.
"That's how we had health care provided in many communities across Alberta," he recalled. Families with few resources would manage to find a few dollars to give to the sisters so they could invest and build a hospital.
Stelmach said some people in Alberta and across Canada question his support for publicly funded health care.
"If they doubt my support, I can tell you, when you sit at the kitchen table and you listen to your parents talk about how are we going to pay the bill because in those days it was very tough - that bill could have been a quarter of your whole year's earnings.
"I leave that on the table for everybody to consider because we are going to go for some very, difficult times in this country as we are going to find ways of funding (our) ever-increasing health care costs.
"If we don't have volunteer organizations working with government to deliver those programs, we will not be able to get the job done."
Added the premier: "We have to have serious discussions, not political discussions but serious, about how do we maintain a very good publicly funded, publicly administered health system for the future."
Noting that Alberta is blessed with natural resources, Stelmach said the province could be a leader in many other areas.
"We can be leaders in caring for the homeless by implementing Canada's first 10-year plan to end homelessness, (by building) affordable housing - all of which can lead to a better quality of life and better health.
"We can be leaders in meeting the health needs of our citizens in a system that puts people first and also care for seniors in a way that gives them respect, gives them dignity and shows how much we value their contribution and the work they did to build the province."