Are we a herd of baby elephants?

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Added: Wed, 11/30/2016 - 10:06pm
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Allyson Beauregard

In mid-November, a picture went viral of Room 608 at the Hull hospital where Gatineau resident Wayne Istead’s mother was staying. People were shocked at the state of disrepair and unsanitary appearance of the room’s sink area, which resembled something from a third world country.
The outburst prompted the CISSSO to “reassure” the population that this situation was unacceptable and that as soon as they heard of the case, renovations were started.
One of the surprising aspects of the situation is how long it took for someone to report that room’s condition. Clearly the room didn’t become so bad overnight, and presumably there have been other patients who stayed in the room earlier, not to mention staff who tended patients in that room, or cleaning personnel. So why was this media outburst the first we learned of the issue? If the CISSSO was actually unaware of the situation, why wasn’t the management notified earlier? Why did it take until now for someone to speak up?
Social psychologists Bibb Latané and John Darley coined the term, “the bystander effect”, following the murder of Kitty Genovese in 1964.  She was stabbed to death outside her New York City apartment while a slew of bystanders witnessed the crime but didn’t try to help or call the police. The psychologists explain that the phenomenon is directly related to the number of people perceived to be present, and occurs when the presence of others discourages one individual from intervening due to the perceived diffusion of responsibility. In simple terms, each person believes there are enough other people around that surely “someone else” will take care of it.
Another psychologist, Dr. Martin Seligman, developed the term “learned helplessness” to describe situations where a person perceives that escape is impossible and that there are no means to effect change.
That concept is used to train captive baby elephants. When young, elephants can easily be restrained with a chain tied to one leg and the other end to a fair sized tree. Over time, the elephants learn there is nothing they can do to escape and they give up trying although they are easily able to break loose once they become adults. Yet because of their conditioning as youngsters, they don’t even try.
In the last few years, despite protests, rallies, and massive public outcry, we were sidelined as our health systems were amalgamated, regional management and job positions eliminated, and Pontiac’s health system employees were forced to relocate for jobs.
Like those in contact with room 608 (patients, nurses, doctors, cleaning staff, family and friends, etc), we acquiesced in the face of  Quebec City’s dictation.  Have we become like trained elephants? Are we too willing to diffuse responsibility and hope “someone else” will object to government heavy-handedness?
Many did protest, briefly, but no one seemed willing to entertain measures which might have made the government’s centralization plan impossible. Yet we
live the consequences of our inaction every day.  How can we throw off this metaphorical chain tying us to this “tree”?    That’s a question for the entire Pontiac.