Friday, October 16, 2009

No one voted for worsening health care

The Vancouver Island Health Authority's plan to deal with provincial underfunding is a destructive mishmash of measures that hurt patients, increase long-term costs and ignore real health issues.
And it's a pattern occurring across the province as all the regional health authorities struggle to find $360 million in spending cuts.
Fewer surgeries and diagnostic tests, cuts to care for seniors and the addicted, reduced community programs - VIHA revealed a list of measures that reduce the level of care in the region.
The problem is simple. The health authority's funding from the provincial government, despite a 5.9-per-cent increase, is $45 million short of what's needed to provide care to residents.
VIHA proposes service cuts, higher fees and property sales to deal with the lack of money from the province.
The other health authorities face the same crunch and have announced, or soon will reveal, similar cuts.
The timing is ridiculous. VIHA's fiscal year started last March 31, like the other health authorities. It is only now, more than halfway through the year, revealing plans to address a $45-million shortfall it knew about nine months ago.
That's not competent. Practically, it means cuts need to be deeper. Instead of 12 months of savings, the authority needs to find the same money in five months.
Politically, it means people voted in May without knowing the effects of Liberal policies. The cuts reflect a choice by the Campbell government to limit health-care funding; the consequences were never made clear in the election campaign.
Quite the contrary. Premier Gordon Campbell promised that despite financial pressures, core services like health would be protected. The authority knew in February cuts were needed; so did the Liberals.
Only in October did they reveal the reality.
VIHA will cut the number of surgeries by 1.3 per cent. Fewer operations means longer waits for suffering people, some unable to work or care for their children. It has reduced the number of MRIs and closed mental health beds.
Those are cuts to services. That's a Liberal promise - an important one - broken.
The other major problem is that the cuts are desperate and short term. They don't really save money.
Cutting the number of operations just means that more will be needed next year. Making people wait means more emergency room visits, more pain drugs and worse outcomes.
It's a straightforward equation. About 30 people a month in the capital region are told they need non-urgent hip replacement. It's called elective surgery, but it's not. No one is going to let doctors cut away their hip bones unless it's desperately needed to stop pain and restore mobility.
If system provided 30 operations, the wait would remain the same.
But if it provided 25 operations, then five people would be bumped to the next month. By the end of the year, 60 people would be parked on the waiting list. And each year, the wait would grow longer.
The health authority is also cutting grants to community organizations that deliver front-line services. That too is a short-term saving with long-term costs.
Victoria Citizens' Counselling, for example, provides help for more than 1,000 people annually, mainly working poor and those on income assistance. Demand has increased by 25 per cent in the past 12 months. VIHA has eliminated its funding, which was 30 per cent of the budget.
The health authority is also selling real estate and privatizing care homes. Publicly operated seniors' homes will be closed and the property sold to corporate providers. The authority will pay for spaces for seniors needing residential care.
Leave aside the public-private debate. The health authority is selling assets - a one-time gain - and using the money to cover operating deficits.
Next year, based on the three-year budget, the funding shortfall will be just as great. The money from selling real estate will be gone. And the cuts to health care will need to be much deeper. The year after that, more of the same.
It's cruel to make people wait for care or treatment without at least discussing whether it makes more sense to look after them promptly.
It's dishonest for the government have promised to protect services during the election campaign.
And it's foolish to think that pushing costs into the future is any real solution.


Anonymous said...

This will of course be of great benefit to the liberal friendly private operator who will pick the whole operation up cheap and sock it to us forevermore on a contract basis and don`t think for a moment that campbell doesn`t relish the thought of putting hated union workers through the ringer.this regime is wholly and totally engaged in theft and transfer of public property into private hands. Anyone who is surprised by the campbell govt.s actions must have been sleeping for the past eight years.

Anonymous said...

thanks Paul for your thoughtful column (as usual!).

In Europe, people would be protesting in the streets.

I wonder what it will take for British Columbians to wake up and take action before the whole province is sold out from under us.

Anonymous said...

but wait, there's more...

B.C.'s fire chiefs say they're angry and confused by cuts to a provincial program that trains firefighters to provide medical aid before an ambulance arrives at the scene of an emergency.

The chiefs say they were blindsided last week when the province's Emergency Health Services Commission abruptly announced it will end a contract to pay for advanced first aid training for firefighters at the B.C. Justice Institute.


Cutting the training saved the Emergency Health Services Commission $250,000 a year.

And this

Victoria's police chief says a "staggering number" of police calls are mental-health related and his officers will have to pick up the pieces after recent cuts to mental-health services.

"There is no doubt that as a result of these cuts and reductions that our workload will increase," said Chief Jamie Graham, who predicts officers will be sent to more non-criminal matters to deal with mentally ill people who aren't getting proper treatment.

The Vancouver Island Health Authority cut 10 beds at the Eric Martin Pavilion, which means patients will have to be much sicker to get into the facility.


Perhaps the new BC Liberal communications strategy is to piss off every group of traditional supporters.

wstander said...

Perhaps the new BC Liberal communications strategy is to piss off every group of traditional supporters.

Actually, no. The traditional supporters of the Campbell Crony Capitalist Party have always been inclined to spend more on police and "law and order" than on aid to the mentally ill and community service agencies.