Friday, June 5, 2009

Trouble in Strathmore

Bill Duke
In an effort to spur the provincial government into action regarding Strathmore’s hospital expansion, more than 120 local seniors staged a demonstration outside the hospital grounds Friday morning.
Some were in wheelchairs, others brought lawn chairs in which to sit. Most gathered under a tree in an attempt to stay out of the sun.
But they didn’t hesitate in letting their opinions be known.
Joining enthusiastic and determined group were members of two organizations: Coalition of Seniors Advocates (COSA) and Friends of Medicare (FOM).
Armed with a microphone, audio system and supportive audience, retired nurse Marian Peck kicked off the proceedings by reading Premier Ed Stelmach’s now infamous promise from last February.
While campaigning for reelection, Stelmach stopped in Strathmore and promised that an expansion to Strathmore’s inadequate hospital facility was a done deal.
The plan called for the total number of long-term care beds to be increased from 23 to 100, allowing for a major renovation to the hospital’s cramped emergency room quarters.
That very clear promise was made last February, yet no progress has been made since then.
Strathmore’s proposed AgeCare facility has further complicated the process as the province had indicated that the AgeCare building would essentially take the place of the hospital addition.
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The Tories have backed off that claim in recent weeks, yet the status of Strathmore’s long-term care patients remains very much in a state of flux.
This was the second protest local seniors have staged this year. The first was a much smaller demonstration in which 30 or so people took to the sidewalk with signs and chants back in April.
This time, the crowd was much larger and the message clearer: the Conservatives need to take care of seniors or risk losing power in Alberta.
Following Peck to the podium was retired farmer Steve Bothi, who reminded those in attendance about the fate the Social Credit Party and its leader suffered in 1971.
“Harry Strom got a little bit arrogant. It was this generation that tossed him out on his butt and he hasn’t been seen since,” said Bothi.
“What we have to tell Ed is, ‘Do you want to be the next Harry Strom?’”
The crowd cheered often during the handful of speeches, shouting messages support for the speakers and chants of “Shame!” directed at the government and MLA Arno Doerksen.
“We’ve got to work together to drive this agenda on our terms,” said Bothi before urging the crowd to contact Doerksen to express their frustrations.
“We don’t have to take this. We deserve better.”
Also speaking at the demonstration was Todd Waynillowicz of Friends of Medicare, a group dedicated to promoting and protecting public health care in Alberta.
“The quality and accessibility of seniors’ care has been eroding. We need to make (the government) do some work to earn their pay.”
After a few more speakers took the podium, Peck wrapped up the evening by sharing her dismay that Doerksen didn’t attend the rally.
She urged the crowd to oust the Tory government if past promises aren’t kept and declared Doerksen “finished.”
Peck made it clear that Friday’s event was only the beginning of the seniors’ push to get the facility that Strathmore so desperately needs.
One thing they aren’t is finished.

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