Memo to health authorities – We can handle the truth

12 months ago

Does anyone else find the excuse Horizon and Vitalite Health authorities are using to keep secret the number of people who die in hospital emergency rooms rather lame, and insulting. 

They say they are keeping those numbers secret because they don’t want to alarm us. It’s like they are channeling Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men. “You want to know the truth about how many people die in our emergency rooms. You can’t handle the truth!” 

And for an extra level of assault on our common sense, Horizon interim president and CEO Margaret Melanson added that “We do not want to alarm our public and give the impression that every patient who comes to the emergency department will always live.’  

First of all that makes no sense. Releasing the numbers of deaths will not give the impression that everyone lives, actually just the opposite. But more on point, exactly who does she think is currently harbouring this impression? Is she trying to shelter us from the reality that people die in hospitals, and specifically in emergency rooms? Is there anybody who doesn’t already realize this? By the very nature of the beast, hospital emergency rooms are where people end up when their lives are in danger. Whether it’s a severe heart attack, a bad car accident, or any other serious health condition, the emergency room is where you are headed. And sometimes there’s simply nothing they can do as the person is too far gone. Sometimes they die in the ambulance before it even arrives at the ER. That’s simply the reality.  

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to those in charge of the health authorities that New Brunswickers aren’t stupid, that we understand this reality, and giving us the numbers of how many will not burst any imaginary bubble that we had no idea everyone who goes to the ER doesn’t have a positive outcome.  

Liberal health critic Rob McKee is absolutely right when he says that withholding information and having secrecy around some of the numbers could make the public’s confidence in our emergency rooms worse not better.  

All this said, I agree with the concern of not wanting to alarm people. But the answer to that isn’t a lack of transparency, it’s giving the numbers context. First, accept that we know people die in emergency rooms, at least give us credit for that. And then present the numbers with proper context. Tell us the how and how many, and also, how our numbers compare to the numbers from other hospitals. Give us context of how our emergency rooms compare.  

Two closing points. We have a right to know, and we can handle it. But if the decision is to keep us in the dark, as seems to be the plan, that will lead people to believe the numbers must be really, really bad.  

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Cover photo Credit: Mat Napo via Unsplash

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