Holly Dressel Book Tour

2008 September 16, by Chapter Council

Holly Dressel, spoke on her new book: “Who Killed the Queen? The Story of a Community Hospital and How to Fix Public Health Care” on September 15, 2008 at the BCGEU Bldg., 2994 Douglas St. Dressel is a best-selling author generally known for work on environmental subjects and as a writer-researcher for television, radio and print for the last twenty-five years. She is the best-selling author, with David Suzuki, of “Good News for a Change: Hope for a Troubled Planet” and “From Naked Ape to Super-species: humanity and the global eco-crisis”. Her talk was sponsored by the Victoria Chapter of the Council of Canadians, the South Island Health Coalition, and the BC Health Coalition.

From the publisher: “When Elections Canada conducted a 2004 federal election survey, they found that the number one issue for Canadians of all ages was health. With a new federal election recently announced, healthcare continues to be of the utmost priority. The Queen Elizabeth Hospital of Montreal, an exemplary Canadian community hospital that had been the site of many national and international medical firsts, was suddenly closed in the mid-1990s. It was not alone. Using the dramatic and entertaining 100-year history of the Queen Elizabeth as a base, Who Killed the Queen? investigates Canada’s mass closures of hospitals and hospital beds between 1994 and 1998. The book shows that the resulting 20% loss of beds – a figure unparalleled in the history of any other industrialized country – continues to affect hospital and health care in every province. Holly Dressel offers strong evidence as to who and what was responsible for the closures and also provides well-supported, international assessments of the current quality of the Canadian health care system, arguing that it can not only be saved but strengthened. Who Killed the Queen? not only exposes the effect of internal bureaucratic and external economic pressures on public health care in Canada but also demonstrates the many ways in which this country’s medical care is exceptional and worthy of emulation. This discussion is relevant for all countries whose medical systems are under attack.”

Last night, Holly gave us a brilliant and dynamic discussion of the disastrous state of hospitals and health care in Canada, and of the importance of keeping Canadian health care public and avoiding the pitfalls of privatization.

The worst period in the history of Canadian health care was 1994-95, during which hospitals were closed in every province, 57 hospitals in Saskatchewan alone. The question is why?

The answer, according to Dressel, stems from the IMF (International Monetary Fund) forcing Canada to make “structural adjustments”, resulting in the drastic cutting of federal transfers to the provinces. (The IMF dictated specific cuts to social programs.) Other countries have refused to cowtow to the demands and threats of the IMF, but Canada buckled under the pressure, and catastrophic destruction of the hospital care system then existing ensued. By slashing 20% of its hospital funding, less than $30 million was saved in the entire country, a paltry sum in view of the huge loss to health care in Canada.

As a result, Canadian hospitals converted to a bare bones business model of operation, which requires that beds be at least 90% full at all times. Therefore, in the event of a health crisis of any kind these hospitals are immediately overwhelmed.

In BC workers in the Hospital Employees Union were required to accept pay cuts averaging 40%. Nevertheless, in spite of all of the “austerity measures”, wait times in Canada remain at par with the rest of the developed world, regardless of popular misconceptions to the contrary.

Privatization of health care, which is also dictated by the IMF, leads only to an increase in profits for the corporations involved, at the expense of universal access. The result is that even well-off people do not seek health care until their medical conditions are accute and severe, because they cannot afford expensive tests early on. Costs are therefore much greater, and death rates even for those undergoing treatment are increased.

For a prequel to the book, a 2006 article in Yes Magazine, click here.