August 17, 2015
New Government, New Opportunities, New Campaign
Alberta’s first change in government in 44 years has created significant new opportunities for wellness and chronic disease/injury prevention.
While serving in opposition, the New Democrats and Premier Notley made a number of statements and commitments in support of disease and injury prevention.
In 2012, the Alberta NDP committed its support in writing to the creation of a sustainable and well-financed Wellness Foundation that aligns with the Wellness Alberta proposal.
Just a few weeks later, Rachel Notley reinforced the New Democrat’s support for a significant investment in disease prevention in an all-party public forum on the health of Albertans that was hosted by our very own Dr. Kim Raine.
Since Rachel Notley was first elected to in 2008, the Premier and her colleagues made numerous statements in the Legislative Assembly calling for investments and strategies to reduce chronic disease and injury. In one particularly heated exchange, MLA Notley implored the Minister of Health to “walk the talk” on prevention and to replace words with real action.
These responses, commitments and public statements will be profiled in a new campaign by Wellness Alberta called “Walk the Talk on Wellness” that will be launched this fall. This campaign will include a provincial publicity campaign and speaking tour, targeted advertising, meetings with government officials, and a concerted mobilization effort that will involve our 105 supporting organizations, governing bodies and institutions.
The goal of this campaign will be to encourage the ruling NDP to stand by its words by making a significant and sustainable investment in prevention through the creation of a provincial Wellness Foundation.
We hope that the Notley government will accept our challenge and follow through on its commitments to improve the health of Albertans and to protect our healthcare system.
We are optimistic about our potential for success and we believe that the time is right for the creation of a well-financed, effective and sustainable provincial Wellness Foundation.
Revisiting the Romanow Report
Passion for the health of Albertans isn't the only thing the Alberta NDP and Wellness Alberta have in common. We both have looked to the work of former Saskatchewan Premier, Roy Romanow for inspiration.
In 2001, after a long career in the public service Roy Romanow was asked to the head the Royal Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada. In 2002, following an exhaustive review of research and extensive consultations with thousands of Canadians, Romanow released the report “Building on Values: The Future of Health Care in Canada”, also referred to as the ‘Romanow Report’.
The report included a number of recommendations proposing major changes to ensure the long-term sustainability of Canada’s health care system. Several of the recommendations specifically focused on the need to strengthen the role of prevention and health promotion.
Let’s take a look at how the Romanow Report aligns with the Wellness Alberta proposal:
“Preventing disease and promoting health are the best ways to sustain our health care system over the longer term” - Romanow Report
The Romanow report created a clear vision of how Canadians could become ‘the healthiest people in the world” by investing in preventing illness and injury and helping Canadians stay healthy. The report highlighted the need for targeted actions in the areas of tobacco reduction, reducing obesity and encouraging physical activity - areas where a significant impact on the health of Canadians could be achieved.
To prevent chronic disease and promote the health and quality of life of Albertans, a Wellness Foundation will focus on evidence-based, primary prevention initiatives to address six major modifiable risk factors: tobacco use, unhealthy eating, physical inactivity, alcohol misuse, adverse childhood experiences and injury.
“Strike a balance between investments in prevention and those directed to care and treatment” - Romanow Report
In 2002 Romanow highlighted the need for government to make meaningful and sustained investments in prevention and health promotion. The report acknowledged prevention and promotion activities are historically a very small fraction of the work of governments, health authorities and providers. Furthermore, the report asserted that any funding provided in the past was concentrated on isolated pilot projects with short-term funding. As a result, any health promotion efforts were noted as being “fragmented, piecemeal and have not been able to capitalize on the potential for transforming the health care system”.
The Alberta Government has only been spending approximately 1% of the total provincial health budget on the primary prevention of chronic disease and injury. Stable, long-term funding dedicated to prevention and health promotion is a good value for money: a one dollar investment can be expected to result in a minimum $4-5 cost savings in future acute health care expenditures. Some large scale interventions have been shown to produce a return-of-investment of up to 50:1. A Wellness Foundation will ensure new investments are directed to evidence-based strategies and sustained over the long-term reduce the burden of chronic disease and disability on Albertans and our healthcare system.
“Governments can make informed decisions about how and where to invest health care dollars” - Romanow Report
The Romanow Report encouraged governments to commit to a stronger focus on prevention as a means to contain costs and generate significant savings for the health care system in the longer-term. The report challenged the long held belief that our health care system “is immune to change”. It squarely placed the responsibility for transforming the health care system on governments who have the power to choose to make informed decisions about how and where to invest public dollars and can commit to collaborating with other stakeholders to achieve success.
Government can demonstrate transparency, accountability and ensure investments are dedicated to prevention by establishing a Wellness Foundation that functions independently of the acute health care system. The Foundation can be created by an Act of the Legislative Assembly and report directly to the Assembly each year. To demonstrate collaboration and sustainability, the Wellness Foundation can be governed by an independent board comprised of key stakeholders that are selected by an all-party committee of the Legislative Assembly. The Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund is governed in a similar non-partisan manner.
Over a decade has passed since Roy Romanow released this momentous report. Unfortunately there has been little meaningful action by government follow through on the recommendations to prioritize and protect good health. However, the new political landscape in Alberta offers Roy Romanow, Wellness Alberta and our thousands of supporters another opportunity to succeed. We can move beyond the rhetoric and start ‘walking the talk’ on wellness by working collaboratively to secure meaningful, sustainable and dedicated investments in disease prevention and health promotion in Alberta.
Meet Our New Team Member
William (Bill) Wells is the Chief Executive Officer of the Alberta Recreation and Parks Association (ARPA). ARPA is a provincial, not-for-profit, charitable organization made up of volunteers, professionals, practitioners, academics, business people and locally elected officials committed to building healthy citizens, communities, and environments in Alberta through recreation and parks. ARPA delivers a number of wellness based programs and services across Alberta. A current initiative involves establishing a base line of healthy foods in recreation centres with the goal of increasing the availability of healthy foods in recreation facilities across Alberta.
Bill’s background includes a city councillor for 6 successive terms (18 years) with a demonstrated emphasis on recreation, arts and culture, the environment and the introduction of preventative public health programs, the CEO of a provincial educational organization with an emphasis on the development and maintenance of many critical relationships with organizations that were key partners and as a consultant for a number of community development and recreation organizations and municipalities. Bill is a graduate of the University of Saskatchewan and the University of Regina and is a recipient of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal in recognition of his record of service to the community.