AHS is passing up a good opportunity
“We ask, again, that you kindly refrain from contacting us . . . .”
Those are the words of the Alberta Health Services after a Calgary taxpayer tried to bring a good revenue generating idea to their attention – again.
The story traces back to 2006 and involves Scott Kellock, a Calgary businessman.
While driving down 16th Avenue N.W., Kellock noticed the Foothills Hospital parkade and observed that the side of it would make a great spot for a billboard. In fact, the side of the parkade was so immense, Kellock figured it could tastefully hold four or five billboards.
Kellock had previously learned that a nearby billboard charged $8,000 per month for advertisements. Using that figure, he calculated that AHS was conservatively missing out on hundreds of thousands of dollars in potential revenue each year by not utilizing the side of their parkade for signage.
Kellock contacted AHS and suggested they look into putting up a few billboards on their structure. He noted the billboards could bring in enough money each year to pay for a doctor’s salary, a couple of nurses or costly medical equipment. At the same time, the ads could be regulated to ensure they were appropriate for such a setting.
Despite numerous conversations with elected officials and several letters with AHS over the years, Kellock’s common sense suggestion continues to be ignored.
“They’ve come up with all kinds of excuses,” Kellock said in a recent phone call. “One of the strangest responses was that they’re worried about looking like they’re endorsing whoever advertises, but that doesn’t add up. City buses, city arenas and all kinds of other government properties take advantage of advertising in a tasteful manner. No one mistakes an ad on a City of Calgary hockey rink for an endorsement.”
The fact that AHS didn’t come up with this idea on their own is not surprising; governments don’t have the proper incentives in place to derive revenues from their assets properly. But what is surprising, is that AHS hasn’t acted on this revenue generating idea, while at the same time, the provincial government is raising taxes to pay for services such as health care.
In the years ahead, Canada’s aging population will put tremendous pressure on our health-care system. In 2013, the Canadian Institute of Actuaries estimated that more than 100 per cent of provincial government revenues would be needed solely for health care by 2037, unless there is systemic reform.
AHS should not only be embracing outside-the-box ideas like the one Kellock presented for the Foothills Hospital parkade, it should be looking at its other buildings throughout the province to see if there are other opportunities for raising revenues through tasteful advertising. Again, Kellock estimates this one parkade alone could bring in a couple hundred thousand dollars in revenue.
Another idea would be to follow in the footsteps of some Ontario hospitals, and partner with companies such as Germgo, a firm that provides free hand sanitizer stations in hospitals (for staff, patients and the public to use) in exchange for displaying tasteful ads on the dispensers. No doubt, if AHS dug a bit deeper, it could find even more innovative revenue ideas like this that could help keep our health-care system afloat.
One thing is for certain, AHS needs to rethink how it responds to innovative ideas that are presented to it. Someday, they may not have a choice.
Colin Craig works for the Manning Centre in Calgary and is the author of The Government Wears Prada.
This column ran in the January 23, 2016 edition of the Calgary Herald