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Sometimes, there’s hills you need to die on

Posted on July 6, 2016 by Taber Times

By Greg Price
Taber Times
gprice@tabertimes.com

The last couple of weeks I’ve been covering a story with much interest in the controversy surrounding The Good Samaritan Society’s decision to switch to a single provider (PharmaCare) to centralize pharmacy supports and services in an institution they run in the Linden View care facility.

Interested because with departed grandfathers with Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia respectively and parents who have mounting medications found in their medicine cabinets along with other loved ones, seniors care has come into focus in my life.

If we are all lucky enough to reach the age of the majority of the residents found at Linden View, there should be a degree of dignity and care attached to people who have laboured decade upon decade to help make this community/province/country into what it is today.

That is why I find what has happened in the last couple of weeks so perplexing with the bad optics of the situation, including an about face from one of the harshest critics of The Good Samaritan Society’s decision in the first place.

Let us start from the beginning. As part of the Accreditation Canada process Good Samaritan Society went through last September, it was advised the society move to a single pharmacy provider to reduce medication errors and to standardize services.

But when Carin Jensen, clinical pharmacist for Linden View and pharmacy manager at Taber Co-Op, asked to get a copy of the Accreditation Canada report that is referenced, no such debriefing could be provided to her and instead was told the debriefing was done ‘verbally.’

Jensen had twice been through a Request For Proposal (RFP) with Good Samaritan Society for pharmacy services provided to Linden View, just like any other service be it accounting, heating and air conditioning, etc. Only this time around, no RFP was given out, simply a five-year contract was given behind closed doors (or on the golf course) to PharmaCare without there being a chance for any other competing bids. It has led to accusations perhaps Good Samaritan Society has benefited financially as well as their rationale of ‘more consistent monitoring, increase resident safety, and allow the organization to provide the highest quality of care and accommodations to those that call The Good Samaritan Society home.’

Now, I guess if you’re a private business and want to do that, that’s your right. Only Good Samaritan Society (GSS) isn’t a private business. According to Charity Intelligence Canada, GSS funding comes primarily from government (75 per cent of revenues). So should not there be proper protocol how public funds are doled out? I inquired to Alberta Health Services (AHS) exactly how much public funding they give to Good Samaritan Society to run Linden View and I was told ‘We’re going to refer you to Linden View for their financial information.’

Speaking of AHS, the organization that gives funding to Good Samaritan Society, who then sub-contracts out organizations like PharmaCare for pharmacy services, no one from the organization attended any of the four information sessions Good Samaritan Society/PharmaCare hosted at Linden View. It’s unclear whether they were not informed of the information sessions, or simply did not care enough to attend.

Keeping with the transparency theme, Municipal District of Taber council was not issued a letter informing them of the information sessions of the PharmaCare decision until the same day the very first session was going on. Town of Taber council was not informed in a timely manner (if at all) to attend the information sessions.

One dedicated individual who made all four information sessions was the leader of the opposition in Carin Jensen. But despite pointing out taking away from local businesses, reducing the level of service, all inconsistencies in correspondence with GSS and the lack of tendering out, PharmaCare now does not seem so evil, after she was offered input as their clinical pharmacist for them in the south.

Recognizing that Co-Op is more likely than not losing the contract to PharmaCare, and with the residents at Linden View’s approval with the move, Jensen noted it would provide comfort and trust with residents/families. I know I would be a lot more comfortable if Jensen has iron clad writing in whatever agreement she has so that she is the one calling the shots for the pharmacy care of Taber residents for the duration of the five-year contract with job security.

This is not a knock on Jensen. I need no further proof than the outpouring of support I saw at an information session of Linden View residents, their families, M.D. of Taber councillors and medical professionals in town to know exactly how deeply Jensen cares about the health needs of the people of Taber and how this whole fiasco has affected her emotionally.

But this is a trend that seems to be all too commonplace to my liking. Big business has a problem with dissent? Throw money at it and disguise it as ‘caring.’

Residents were told at the information session the vague reference that costs ‘should’ remain constant as they were under Taber Co-Op. But what if generic drugs aren’t pushed and residents will be losing the rebate system a co-op offers, so prices would be expected to climb with no rebate offers?

I cringe when I hear councillors and other residents simply say, ‘It’s a business decision’ when it comes to PharmaCare. These aren’t big screen TVs, sports sneakers or designer jeans we are dealing with in finding efficiencies to keep shareholders happy, we are dealing in our loved ones with several health needs in their Golden Years whose funding primarily comes from tax dollars.

Public funding for an organization that has 10 salaries of $120,000 or more and among its 944 employees has an average compensation of $66,057, according to Charity Intelligence Canada.

If GSS is finding any sort of cost efficiencies by going with PharmaCare, will it be passed down to the residents of Linden View with increased comforts like better nutritious food or bedding etc. without being upcharged more or perhaps have lower rent? That would certainly be the ‘Christian’ thing to do.

Founded in 1955, The Good Samaritan Society (GSS) is a Lutheran Social Service Organization that aims to extend Christian Hospitality through continuous care to those in need or at risk, regardless of race or religious belief. GSS provides long-term care, assisted/supportive living and other specialized health care services for the elderly and the physically and mentally challenged.

Good Samaritan Society wrote M.D. council in a letter dated June 22, ‘If Supportive Living residents choose to remain with their current pharmacy provider despite the enhanced benefits that PharmaCare will offer, that is their decision to make.’ Apparently, that is erroneous ‘in their decision to make’, according to e-mail correspondence I’ve received. Maybe being in the newspaper business for nearly 20 years has made me more cynical than the very caring and passionate Carin Jensen, but seeing all the misfires already by the organizations Jensen was fighting against, I get a foreboding feeling when I hear a quote of Jensen that was already published in The Times in ‘they apologized to me and I’m sure to the site for the misinformation that they had and will be more up front with things in the future.’

Let’s play what if. What if rural Albertans have the mental and physical fortitude to follow this through with an united voice petition and canvass their local governments, MLAs, health organizations and premier and put pressure on an organization that relies heavily on the public purse to reverse a decision?

I’ve seen this fight before in big business when local residents did a ‘let’s keep water local’ campaign when EPCOR came a calling for a contract with the town, which covers the town’s water and sanitary sewage systems as well as portions of the town’s storm water system. Some of those voices ended up with EPCOR…you know the business that is now asking for an enormous 68 per cent increase to its current fee structure for Taberites. Because you know, EPCOR only made a measly $260 million in net income ($247 million from core operations) in 2015, up from $191 million in net income in 2014…they are barely making ends meet in this economic downturn.

There are no guarantees in life. Sometimes when you fight the good fight you still lose. But the moment we show indifference is when that malaise starts to grow and we automatically go to the default that something is too big to contest, and we have no fighting spirit left.

Everyone will face hills they will choose to fight on be they big or small in their lives.

If transparency and quality for the care of our loved elderly and disabled isn’t a hill worth dying on…what exactly is?

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