Earlier this month, the Chilliwack Times's Paul Henderson reported a group calling themselves Citizens for Sustainable Health Care was handing out leaflets at a recent conversation on health regional public forum. And what is their interested in that discussion, you may wonder? Well, according to their Website, the group was established to give "ordinary citizens a voice in B.C.'s health care debate" - citizens who don't care who's providing their medical services as long as they're "provided 'free' at the point of delivery." And their principal orator's name is one that will recognizable to some of our New Westminster readers: Patrick O'Connor, who was Joyce Murray's constituency assistant when she was the city's MLA.
In an interview with Public Eye, Mr. O'Connor, who is acting president of the Liberal constituency association in that riding, explained Citizens for Sustainable Health Care is a volunteer organization, without any outside funding to-date. And it has no association with the Liberals. "I'm sure people will make that association," said Mr. O'Connor. "But that's not how I'm operating. If you look me up in New Westminster you can see I've always been a maverick community activist. I'm not shy about my opinions and going my own way on things." He also said Citizens for Sustainable Health Care isn't a reaction to Premier Gordon Campbell's suggestion that Liberals should become involved in the conversation on health. The following is an edited copy of an email from Mr. O'Connor explaining how the organization was founded.
From: Patrick O'Connor
Sent: 08 March 2007 10:27
To: 'Sean Holman'
Good talking to you this morning and thanks for your interest in our new group - Citizens for Sustainable Health Care.
As I said when we spoke, we're a volunteer group with plans to grow into a major voice for health care reform in B.C. We feel there is a big need for a group like ours to help balance the public debate. We want to bring forward information that isn't getting heard right now and ultimately we want to see solutions implemented that will actually improve B.C.'s health care system and make it sustainable and affordable over the long haul. We've had a great response from people so far and we're picking up support every day for what we're doing. We've discovered we're not the only ones who feel this way.
We have a growing Advisory Committee and very soon we will have an official spokespersonâ€”but at this early stage I am the key driving figure in the group. Here is some information about myself and my background as promised.
I've lived in New Westminster for almost 17 years with my wife and our three children (two daughters, aged 16 and 13 years, and a son, aged 3 years). My wife and I both grew up in Vancouver. I was born at St. Paul's Hospital and I'm one year away from turning 50 - along with millions of other baby-boomers heading into their late-adulthood and seniority.
I have a history of community activism in New Westminster as you can see from the Royal City Record's online archive of articles and letters.
I've been particularly involved in school district issues over the last ten years and, more recently, I was involved in the formation of a non-partisan civic electors group in New Westminster with members from across the political spectrum (NDP, Liberal, Conservative, Green and BC Liberal).
As you know, I also served as Joyce Murray's Constituency Assistant when she was MLA. I'm a BC Liberal member and active in the local riding association. I've been temporarily holding the president's post for the past year because our previous president became ill - we will soon have new president taking over.
My desire to start a group like the Citizens for Sustainable Health Care came about during my time as Joyce's Constituency Assistant. I used to receive several calls each week in the constituency office from upset people who had been bumped from their scheduled hip replacement operation or who were sitting on an 18 month wait list for one procedure or test or another. By nature I am a problem solver and it was clear to me, even back then, that replacing hips in acute care hospitals was not working nor was it the most cost effective way to be doing hip replacements. Hip replacements are a routine procedure. For the most part the people who were calling the Constituency Office didn't need to be in an acute care hospital that was set up to handle crisis situations and complex, infectious health issues and diseases.
In talking to the people who called the Constituency Office, I was always struck by the fact that many people had never considered the fact that hip replacement operations could be carried out away from an acute care hospital setting. In fact, I discovered that people generally had a lot of incorrect information and plain old misinformation about the health care system and the issues facing us. I always felt that I'd helped the people who contacted the Constituency Office and I felt that I was able to give them something to think about. In a number of cases we were able to point people toward a specialist with a shorter waiting list than the one their doctor had referred them to.
I also kept Joyce and the ministry people in Victoria informed about the number of calls we were getting about wait lists for things like hip replacements, cataracts, and high tech diagnostic tests like MRI's and CT scans.
Emerging from all of this, I saw the need to form a citizen-based group like Citizens for Sustainable Health Care to bring forward better information to the public. We've now formed such a group and we're jumping right into the debate.
Regardless of what our individual political perspectives are, I think most people can agree where the problem areas are in our health care system; these have been clearly defined. What we at the Citizens for Sustainable Health Care are trying to do is to move the debate toward a discussion of solutions and help lay the groundwork for a sustainable health care systemâ€”one that can cope with the amazing technological and medical possibilities available to us in the 21st Century and one that can cope with the onslaught of the baby-boomers (like myself) who are now starting to have an impact on the health care system. (Note: As I mentioned when we spoke, I myself benefited from what can only have been a costly Lithotrispy procedure at VGH last summer to break up my first ever kidney stoneâ€”I'm now wondering how long it will be before my hips need to be replaced just like my father's were back in the mid 1990'sâ€”and, as I indicated, he did get bumped a couple of times from his scheduled surgeries.)
I hope this information is helpful to you. If I can answer any other questions or provide you with additional materials for any articles you may be planning or currently working on, please don't hesitate to contact me.
Thanks again for your interest.