Treat medical specialists with respect
Every Newfoundlander and Labradorian with the possible exception of some ill-connected resident of the Funks knows that health care in this province is just a trifle short of perfect. Inquiries have been held, reports issued, conclusions sifted and studied, recommendations made and implemented.
Everyone has a health-care story, and the sad truth is that, given that human lives are at stake, some of these stories end in tragedy.
The latest crisis in a long series of lurches and staggers is the resignation of 14 medical specialists. They will leave the province in February.
Lest anyone think this is a crisis that suddenly appeared, let’s cast our focus back to 2008, when another group of specialists announced they were leaving, complaining of overwork and underpayment.
The government strategy was to publicly trash the specialists, to leave the public with the impression that these doctors were already overpaid, and greedy for more. When that failed and there was no resolution in sight, the premier met the specialists in private and offered to meet their demands. They agreed.
In the news conference that followed, the premier hinted darkly that the settlement he had reluctantly agreed to at the 11th hour, set a “dangerous precedent.” Nonetheless, he insisted there comes a time when someone has to “step up.” The premier was that man.
This was in early 2008. In the autumn, another group of specialists wanted to be paid what the first group got. Equal pay for work of equal value. Either that or they were going to walk. After a period of abusing those specialists, too, the premier once again “stepped up.”
Are you beginning to see a pattern here?
That’s two standoffs and two “stepsup.” Many more steps and an escalator will have to be installed. Because escalation is what is happening.
Fourteen specialists this time, a number attracting national attention in the media and international attention in medical circles. This bizarre pattern of belligerently berating employees before giving them what they want is garnering a black eye for this province among doctors who might be looking at Newfoundland and Labrador as a place to practice.
Some of them may be Memorial medical students whose front row seat at this spectacle may convince them this is the last place to consider setting up shop.
If and when the premier “steps up” once again and settles with the 14 of the moment, will the damage already be done? And where did this “step-up” expression come from anyway?
Like so much of what the premier says, it is a businessman’s cliché borrowed from the sports world. It’s a baseball expression: the batter “steps up” to home plate. There he stands, waiting for the opposing pitcher to throw a ball made of horse hide at him, as hard as he can. Then he, in turn, tries to hit the horse hide back, as hard as he can, with a great big stick.
When you use a big stick and horsehide to carry out contract negotiations, what of value can you hope to produce? The most likely product is waste, accompanied by a lot of noise, and an unpleasant odour, bursting forth from the exit end of the horse.
Approaching any negotiation as a confrontation where one side must lose in order for the other to win is guaranteed to waste time and result in bad feeling. When people feel bad they say things better left unsaid.
That can lead to a little girl asking her Poppy why people are saying such nasty things about him. Nobody wants that.
Memo to Poppy: Put down the Big Stick. Forget the horsehide. Get rid of the cross-check, the slash, the elbow. Understand that these 14 medical specialists are important members of our community.
They provide an essential and precious service. Most important, they are our fellow human beings who deserve to be treated with respect. Treat them that way and, in the long run, all of us will be better off.