How to tame the beast that is public healthcare?

Work in Progress by Ivan Morgan

Walking into the Confederation Building from the parking lot one crisp October morning years ago I saw a guy I knew ahead of me. He had just been appointed Minister of Health and Community Services. While only a minor third-party official, I’d known him long enough to gently tease him.

“So, you think you’re gonna conquer Health?” I asked.

As is characteristic of him, he spun on his heels, got right into my face with a big grin, and said “You don’t conquer Health. You test yourself against it.”

He’s long retired, older, and wiser.

Now our latest Premier has decided it’s his turn to test himself against this monster. And it’s a monster. It eats 40 per cent of our tax dollars and doesn’t seem to be working.

Will he conquer it? Do we fancy his chances? I liked Furey telling reporters, after a dust up with the feds over money, Canadians don’t care about health care politics. Plain talk. He’s got that right.

What doesn’t inspire confidence is the Premier’s bafflegab. Having been around a while I know how words and jargon takes hold of government. We all remember a certain premier who discovered words like tranche and ringfence and all kinds of government officials immediately worked those words into their vocabulary. Seriously.

Now we have a premier who says this about the health care challenge:

“ . . . trying to deal with the crisis that is health care in Newfoundland and Labrador from a granular level, but also from a visionary level recreating and reimagining a health-care system that’s sustainable well into the future.”

Ye Gods! Granular? Visionary! Just fix the damn thing.

The premier says there is no quick fix. There was no quick unravelling either. The Liberals have had almost eight years to let this thing slide. I have no idea what the problem is (although like many of us I have my suspicions), but the Liberals have been telling us how awesome they are for coming up on eight years.

So. Be awesome.

Work is being done. Dr. Pat Parfrey and Sister Elizabeth Davis wrote an interesting report in 2020. I read it (I am weird like that – I read most government reports. I used to read them for work, now I read them for . . .can’t really think of a word here – curiosity?).

I worry because a clever journalist I follow recently wrote that the business community is in the wings salivating over the demise of Canadian health care. They know big money when they see it.  They know what to do with it (hint: not give it to you).

Let me tell you a story that I think underscores a problem with our health care system.

I was walking through St. Clare’s with my Mom visiting a sick relative. It was in the early 1970s. Maybe I was 11. I didn’t like hospitals or sick old people and I was more than a little freaked. She was telling me quietly about the relative as we walked along. All of a sudden, a head nurse came whistling up to my mother and sternly but quietly chewed her out for talking so loudly. I remember it to this day because my mom just stood there and took it, apologizing profusely. I’d never heard anyone talking to my mom like that.

Fast forward to a few years ago when I was on a floor in St. Clare’s and couldn’t hear myself think for the racket. It was pandemonium – really noisy. (Come to think of it, my last few visits to hospitals were like that.)

The nurses were doing their jobs. The cleaners were doing theirs. Food people were collecting trays. The assistants were busy too.

Everyone was doing what they were supposed to be doing, but no one appeared to be in charge. . .

Ivan Morgan can be reached at

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