Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Liberals hit by health-care turmoil

VICTORIA - Those people who argue the government has been underfunding health care have just got some pretty strong support from the best of sources.
Within 48 hours the heads of the regional health authorities serving almost half B.C.'s population were gone from their jobs; one fired, the other resigning.
And in both cases, the central issue was the lack of money to provide the care people needed - the operations, emergency-room care, seniors' homes.
The revolution from within capped what had been a bad week on the health-care file for the Campbell government.
The first to go was Vancouver Coastal Health Authority chairman Trevor Johnstone, fired by Health Minister George Abbott. Johnstone, said Abbott, was being axed because the health authority wasn't managing its spending pressures properly.
The authority and the government had been arguing over $40-million.
The authority said it was short that much and couldn't meet health-care needs in the region for the rest of this year.
It warned the government of the problem well in advance. When there was no solution, the health authority cancelled surgeries and closed acute-care beds to avoid a deficit.
The government, after some confused waffling, ordered the decision reversed and told the authority to find $40 million in other savings - all to be realized in the next two months.
That's pretty much impossible. The authority would have to find an immediate way to cut spending by nine per cent for the rest of the fiscal year.
That can't be done without service cuts, no matter what the health minister decrees from his Victoria office.
Maybe the health region management had done a poor job and Johnstone deserved to go.
But the government looked nervous. On the same day Johnstone was axed Finance Minister Carole Taylor made an extraordinary announcement. She didn't only pre-empt the coming budget by announcing next year's funding for the health authorities. She made the announcement months ahead of any other year. The authorities would get an average 6.3 per cent increase, she said.
The announcement was an attempt to counter the criticism likely to follow the budget-related firing of Johnstone.
It didn't work out too well. Only 48 hours after Abbot fired Johnstone, another health authority chairman said he was quitting. Partly, because of the way the government had treated his colleague.
But more significantly, Fraser Health chair Keith Purchase said Taylor's funding plan would leave the authority unable to provide the region with the needed care.
Purchase is not some well-meaning amateur. He has an extensive background in the forest industry and was CEO of TimberWest. The Liberals named him chair of the Vancouver Coastal authority in 2001 when it overhauled the health system.
The Campbell government then appointed him chair of Fraser Health in late 2005, when the region faced mounting problems.
Health Minister George Abbott said Purchase should have been content with the increase promised by Taylor. Fraser Health is slated to get a 7.1-per-cent budget increase next year, more than any other authority.
But a big one-year increase can't make up for several years of inadequate funding.
Even with the promised jump, the health authorities will have received funding increases averaging 3.5 per cent a year since they began delivering services in 2002.
That's not enough to keep up with population growth and increases in the cost of living.
It's certainly not enough to allow them to deal with the cost pressures Premier Gordon Campbell keeps citing - an aging population, rising drug costs, increased expectations.
The government hoped that the new structure would allow health authorities to cut costs - to deliver more with less, as the big bosses like to say.
But the departures of Johnstone and Purchase suggest that despite their best efforts, the authorities simply don't have the money needed.
The government is now going to have make the tough argument that British Columbians can't or won't pay more to fund their local health authority.
Footnote: Taylor added another problem to the list facing health regions. She warned that they will only receive one-year funding increase in the budget because of possible changes resulting from the Conversation on Health. It makes efficient planning and management of the system much more difficult for the regional authorities.


Anonymous said...

Bill Tieleman argues (persuasively IMHO) that Health Minister George Abbott fired the wrong person when he canned Vancouver Coastal Health Authority chairman Trevor Johnstone. Tieleman thinks Ida Goodreau, Chief Executive Officer of the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority should have been the one to walk the plank.


Anonymous said...

We are going to pay dearly for the Fibs so called tax cuts when they came to power and the budget cuts that followed.Now we are playing catch up along with the incredible disorganisation that ensued as budgets were slashed, ministries over hauled, and the 'better services " mantra as a cover up.Face it folks, these are an incompetent bunch of so called business people running things into the ground.I think we need to fire Gordo, as the bucks stops with this control freak.

Anonymous said...

The hospital beds are filled with geriatrics who should be in extended care facilities, or psychiatric patients who need the facilities that were closed down by the Campbell Liberals to finance unnessary and unaffordable tax cuts. The government promised 5000 new extended extended care beds to be on line by now. In the meantime the 2010 budget has consumed enough money to build 10,000 beds. Health care in BC is not in crisis, it is in total chaos. If we can't afford health care how can we afford to host 2010 - we simply can't. But guess what? The people that govern, including the opposition and all of their bureaucrats don't have a thing to worry about. Their health care plan is a Rolls Royce, and there are no queues for them to line up behind when they need care. Don't you get it? Take me back to the bad old days of the nineties, when the poor at least had homes to sleep in and I knew that if I got sick I would be treated.

Anonymous said...

George Abbott, the human windmill, as I like to call him( waving his arms around and blaming the previous government for everything) said a couple of days ago" There are beds but no staff available" So who's fault is that George? I recall a fairly substantial surplus. I recently was in the Royal Jubille Hospital, for a small test One whole wing had a total of one nurse, one doctor, one receptionist. So not only do we have beds, we have space. That place costs money to heat, keep lit etc. The area coulld have houses a lot of folks. Big kitchen, lounge area and so on. In the meantime George wants to build a tower for more patients, at the same hospital. So we have money for that. Golly I slipped up, the tower will be another cost overrun 3P no doubt. In the mean time other parts of the same hospital is full of people with nowhere esle to go.Who simpy need a place to lie down.

Anonymous said...

As mentioned by the Province and The Sun today,Friday 2 Feb 2007, health senior managers are quitting at a great rate. Since they quit they probrably won't get severance allowances, so the budget will be closer to being balanced. Seems senior folks who used to work in the forestry business don't operate that well in the medical system especially if only some of them get to see the budgets.

shuswap said...

Let's talk about George. Why should we be surprised that he is ineffective in his current role, it is a mirror of the double talk he left behind as minister for aboriginal affairs. While in the role of opposition he expressed outrage in the Legislative assembly over a matter of child safety, a government abdicating their role in providing secure services for child protection to children at Spallumcheen Band, near Enderby, B.C., George's own back yard. He shook his head, raised his hand, its in the Handsards. He spoke with Christy Clark about the governments outragous behavior on this life threatening matter, stating, there are no sovergn nations in B.C., but hey, guess they changed their minds when they became elected. Can't be too sure because after a couple meetings his availablility was simply non existant. George has skated on issues of record repeatedly, it would be comical if it didn't actually impact the safety and well being of people we should care about. But, when the focus calls for accountability, a new cabinet is simply assigned, no worries, I suspect we will be saying good bye to George in his role with health care. The really unfortunate thing is he is a pretty young guy for politics, years of sleazy evasivness await him.