Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Liberals ' own man blows whistle on health region underfunding

So is the Fraser Health Authority really the only one in the province without the money to provide proper care?
Or are the problems in the other four regional authorities simply being hidden from the public?
The questions are unavoidable in light of leaked documents from the Fraser Health Authority that reveal that inadequate provincial funding will lead to serious problems for patients this year.
Especially as the documents indicate that other health authorities are facing similar problems and that they have been working behind the scenes on introducing user fees for seniors to try and bring in more money.
The NDP raised the issue in the legislature, basing their questions on leaked documents from the Fraser Health Authority.
And not just any documents. The most damning criticisms came from Gordon Barefoot, chair of the authority board. They confirm earlier warnings that the heath authority doesn't have enough money to provide needed care.
Barefoot sets out the reality in his introduction to the region's three-year plan.
"Unfortunately, as the result of available financial resources, this plan, by necessity, reflects too little investment in acute care services and community programs," Barefoot warned. "The risks and likely impacts of the plan are significant."
"The lack of current capacity in acute care as well as delay in the growth of community services will continue to manifest as emergency room congestion, delays and cancellations of surgical and diagnostic procedures, medical units over capacity and delays in rehabilitation and access to community services," Barefoot noted bluntly.
Efforts to improve performance in areas like patient safety will be abandoned. The authority won't be able to deliver the care the government has demanded. User fees are planned.
Bad news for patients and the government. Worse, because Barefoot, a senior business executive, is most definitely on the Liberals' side. He took over as chair in January, after Keith Purchase resigned because he believed the province was not providing enough money to deliver needed care.
A big question now is whether the problems in Fraser Health are an exception, or whether the news just hasn't leaked from the other authorities.
The region does have some special challenges, especially population growth.
But patients across B.C. sitting in emergency rooms or waiting for surgery might suspect similar constraints in their region. And it's tough for them to have any confidence in the local health authority board, accountable only to the provincial government. The boards are generally invisible and secrecy seems the rule.
Certainly, that's true for Fraser Health. The three-year plan that includes these warnings went to the government in March. Now it's two months later - two months into the fiscal year - and it would have remained secret if not for the leak.
And apparently, all the authorities have been holding secret discussions about charging patients and seniors to make up for inadequate core funding from government.
The plan says Fraser Health has "collaborated with other health authorities and have identified a number of revenue-generation opportunities which will require ministry approval and regulatory or policy changes." The plans include introducing user charges for seniors in long-term care and charges for people who need help to stay in their homes.
Big charges. The Fraser Health Authority plans to take in $25 million in user fees, according to the plan. That's part of the effort to eliminate the $65-million shortfall created by provincial funding that doesn't meet patients' needs.
And while the health authorities are discussing user fees for seniors, not one has raised the option in an open board meeting or consulted the community.
The biggest question is why any of this is happening. There's a large provincial government surplus, this year and for at least the next several years.
If the Liberal-appointed chair of the largest health authority says patients will suffer because of underfunding, government could choose to solve the problem. It hasn't.
Patients across the province have to wonder what's happening behind the closed doors in their health authorities.
Footnote: All the health authorities received significant funding increases this year, with Fraser Health's allocation rising 7.1 per cent. But even with that, the authorities have received an average 3.5-per-cent a year increase since they were created in 2002, not enough to keep up with inflation, population growth and the needs of an aging population.


Anonymous said...

Will adding another billion in funding do anything at all?

It may shut the health authorities up for a month or so, but then we’ll be in “crisis mode” again. The last billion we added has apparently sent the health care system into chaos.

How much do we have to spend in order to have a health care system that isn’t in “crisis”?
I’m scared of that answer.

Anonymous said...

$ in the back door ?

On May 29, 2007 an additional $422 million was allocated for health care over the next four years... Is this the BC Liberals way of addressing the problem without admitting that there is a problem?

dawn steele said...

The exact same thing is happening in public education, with legislation to allow more school fees, increasing fundraising pressures on parents and School Boards, P3 models for capital projects and a push towards new governance models like "provincial model schools" that shift the burden onto parents.

We also see identical patterns in community living, child care, and in MCFD services to children and families, so it's clearly no accident. The only thing that's different with Fraser Health is they've actually analysed the impact of underfunding and allowed the bad news to leak out.

The simple but effective message being used to market the growing funding gap is the constant disclaimer that "we're spending more than ever on...(health, education, etc)." It's been remarkably successful in convincing us that such public services are not sustainable -- black holes that could never be adequately funded from the public purse.

But look at the reality. Health and education costs per capita are up far less than housing or energy costs. If you talked about our collective grocery/restaurant bills in provincial terms, the figures would be equally mind-numbing. Are we paying more than what it costs to provide health and education in other developed countries?

Unlike housing and energy, we're also getting more bang for our bucks today: we're serving more patients than ever in BC, more high-cost older patients and we're also serving more high-cost students with special needs than ever. Obviously gross budgets would be up if we're delivering more than ever.

And our provincial coffers are overflowing even after massive tax cuts. Our standard of living overall is way up, so these systems are in no danger of bankrupting us, as they're constantly suggesting.

Finally, these are basic needs -- people have no choice about needing health and education. So if they're not paid via tax dollars, we're further punishing the most vulnerable. I'm starting to see why people talk about "class war" because across the board, it amounts to a massive and consistent shift from have-nots to haves, and we're seeing increasing evidence of the worrying implications and resulting societal destabilization that spawns radical groups like the APC.

sue said...

Interesting post

Anonymous said...

Paul I need to contact you regarding your article "Paying Attention - Liberals own man blows whistle on (Fraser) health region underfunding and have tried to use your email link -> willcocks@ultranet.ca but it keeps being returned to me with error reading - Your message cannot be delivered to the following recipients:

Recipient address: willcocks@ultranet.ca
Reason: Illegal host/domain name found

Do you have another email address? Please contact me, b.goulet@shaw.ca

thank you - Beth Goulet