I was young and enthusiastic when I arrived in Saskatchewan from the U.S. on October 14, 1975. I am still here, 45 years later, growing old. There are a lot of things I love about Saskatchewan but growing old here is not one of them.
I am very disappointed for everyone in Saskatchewan because I saw what could have been. In 1975, Saskatchewan was a bright beacon dear to the hearts of people near and far who were interested in building an effective approach to health care for all. I was excited to have landed a job that played a small part in the team, led by Premiere Allan Blakeney, who were taking Saskatchewan born Medicare on the next steps towards building a healthier society.
My wife reminds me frequently, when I can hear her, that I have hearing loss. When I worked for the Department of Health there was a Saskatchewan Hearing Aid Plan. I would not have imagined then that when I got to an age that I needed a hearing exam and hearing aids, the program would be gone. If you see me, speak loudly and clear, I am learning to live with hearing loss as I grow old in Saskatchewan.
So far, I thankfully don’t need a wheel chair or a walker. S.A.I.L., Saskatchewan Aids to Independent Living, was a program that provided various devices that helped Seniors and others live independently. That program still exists but with greatly reduced benefits.
How many of you know that Saskatchewan had a great Prescription Drug Plan? Everyone was eligible. You paid a small fee for having your prescriptions filled. The Province paid for the cost of the drugs that they got at greatly reduced prices by buying in bulk. A conservative government quickly put an end to that. Evidently, the members of the Conservative Government and their friends could afford their prescriptions so why should they worry about the rest of us. Today, I get some help from the Province paying for my prescriptions. But the current conservative Saskatchewan Government is not making it easy to get by on a fixed income as they continue to increase the amount seniors. like me. pay for our prescriptions.
Over the years, I have helped care for friends and family older than me. Many eventually needed home care and then a bed in a care home. Every year the struggle for good care for seniors becomes more difficult in Saskatchewan. The wait time for needed care just keeps getting longer. That’s my experience and I am part of the large cohort of baby boomers moving toward our twilight years. Without significant action to meet the needs of a rapidly aging population, there is little hope for me and many of the others aging in Saskatchewan to have a reasonable quality of life in our elder years.
What about oral health? The health of our teeth and mouth have a significant impact on our overall health. Do you understand why oral health isn’t it covered by Medicare? I don’t.
What brought me to Saskatchewan as a young dentist was a job with the very innovative Saskatchewan Dental Plan (SDP). The SDP soon became widely recognized as the best public dental program for children in the world. People from many countries visited to marvel at what was being accomplished in Saskatchewan. The SDP provided treatment for all school children in ever expanding age cohorts. Two year trained dental therapists working in school dental clinics throughout the Province, with occasional visits by a supervising dentist, provided the bulk of the care. Numerous studies showed that the dental therapists consistently provided high quality dental treatment. Overall, the SDP, cost effectively, made big improvements in the dental health of the participants.
By 1982, the next phase of the SDP had been planned and announced. The expanded program, which I helped design, would provide dental care for adults, including seniors. Then the conservative Devine government stepped in and pulled the plug on the children’s dental plan and plans for adult dental coverage. As a result of the Conservative’s approach to health, aging in Saskatchewan includes dental suffering for many. If, like me, you are a low income senior, you cannot afford to see a dentist, dental hygienist or denturist. This has an uncomfortable impact on our overall health, comfort and self-esteem.
Some of you may be thinking that the cost of all these innovative health programs must have been driving the Province into huge debt. Actually, the well managed Provincial Government provided these programs and still managed to maintain a surplus.
The Devine Government and other conservative governments of Saskatchewan have taken power from the NDP with a surplus. They then start cutting programs that benefit the majority of people in the Province in favor of programs that primarily benefit the wealthy. Soon they manage to turn surpluses into debt.
I am disappointed that the plans to expand universal health care in the Blakeney years were wiped out by Conservative Governments. However, I still believe that the people of Saskatchewan will eventually elect governments that will take the innovations that Saskatchewan started, with universal health care, to the next steps. Someday a well-managed Saskatchewan Government focused on the needs of its citizens will get back to building a healthy society.
My question to you is, why not now.