Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Health care crisis gets Liberals' attention

VICTORIA - It felt like the days of Glen Clark were back this week as the Liberals thrashed around, trying to sort out the problems - health care and political - in the Fraser Health Authority.
On Monday afternoon Health Minister Shirley Bond was still sounding pretty positive about the health region, and specifically about the problems at the over-crowded Surrey Memorial Hospital. She'd asked for a report on measures being taken to improve things at the hospital's emergency room, Bond told NDP MLA Jagrup Brar, but there was no panic.
But by Tuesday morning, the region's CEO, Bob Smith, had got the axe. The health authority board made the decision, said Bond, but her deputy minister had spent a lot of time over there asking questions. And Bond said she had become worried about the authority's inability to react quickly to emerging problems, and supported the firing.
A few hours later, during Question Period, Bond said she was concerned about problems at the Surrey hospital, but mostly she defended the government's overall health record and slagged the former NDP government.
But then the communications people said Premier Gordon Campbell would be available for a secret scrum. (That's the official Press Gallery term. Past premiers have taken questions from reporters each day on their way into caucus and Question Period. Campbell refuses. Occasionally - twice this session, I think - he takes questions in a formal press conference in his office.)
And while we waited in an anteroom, press releases arrived, hot off the copier. Bond was "calling on" the health region to use its $28-million surplus toward expanding the Surrey hospital emergency room.
It's a flip worthy of one of those 13-year-old Romanian gymnasts.
The Liberals promised independence for the five regional health authorities. The government would expect good plans, and measure performance. But the health region boards would decide how to address the needs of their communities.
Until the political heat got to be too great.
There's nothing really wrong with the politicians leaping into the fray. They're ultimately responsible. They answer to us, and they have the sleepless nights when something has gone wrong.
But we'd like them to be involved because they're worried about us. The problems facing Surrey Memorial, which has the second busiest emergency room in Canada, have been evident for years, Bond acknowledged in the legislature. It wasn't until a New Democrat started raising them, three months before the election, that things got urgent.
And note that the government didn't actually come up with any new money, or offer any estimate of what it would actually cost to solve the problems.
The health authority has a small surplus, about 1.5 per cent of total expenses. Use that, says the government, and do what you can.
It would have been more convincing if the government had been able to cost the needed improvements, and fund them out of the $2.8-billion surplus coming for the current fiscal year.
And the intervention would have been better received if it was clear the health region could afford the improvements, but had messed up. The region has had some big bumps in funding, but is looking at less than two per cent annually for the next two years.
Paradoxically, the actions might not help the Liberals politically. When Surrey was represented by Liberals, nothing happened. After just two weeks of Brar raising questions in the legislature, the hospital gets a big improvement. Not bad work for a rookie.
What will voters make of all this? They'll welcome the action, likely.
But they should wonder whether the failure to deliver 5,000 promised long-term care beds has played a role in hospital over-crowding. The Fraser region has fewer beds available for seniors now than it did four years ago.
And they'll also wonder why the government is only now discovering a problem that everyone else had been worried about for years.
Footnote: Forget about worrying about Smith's severance, likely worth more than his salary for a year - $323,000. He changed his life to take the job, and has been fired without cause - the payout is reasonable. (Although it's the second time he's got severance payments of more than $300,000; the NDP came through with a similar amount when his position was eliminated in 1997.)


Life in Victorola said...

Interesting opinion piece, as always.

Let's not also forget how VIHA was ultimately sidelined in the Nanaimo Emergency Doctor's standoff of February last year. It's not about the money, it's just about...the money. All this highly paid VIHA talent and in the end, Hansen and his staff had to personally intervene. Tell me how the regional health authority model with its duplication and redundant hiearchies work again? If the issue is political enough, combatants will end run the Health Authorities as mere middle men. At least the Doc unions will.

As for making the case for huge payouts and severances for deposed public sector "CEOs", why would the board decide to blow 300K and pay somebody not to work instead of negotiating realistic job performance measures, which when conceivably not met would constitute just cause for dismissal? Grafting generous employment contract provisions on to public sector budgets just doesn't work. Rewarding regional health authorities for meeting budget targets while at the same time cutting back public services is also an innate conflict between self and public interest. In a P2P graft, never the twain shall meet.

Welcome to the fiberal nightmare.

Anonymous said...

Dear Viewers,

I am a small city folk around teen-age and I don’t know the effect this little letter will do but I’m very determined so I’m going to try! My complaint starts with an accident, my nephew Connor fell down approximately seven stairs. His mom,(my Sister) and him are visiting here from Strathmore Alberta. After he fell he started to cry un-controllably and was occasionally passing out, he was also not opening up his eyes. So we dialed 911, in an impressive time period about seven paramedics and firemen arrived.

They did a brief inspection and they told us that it was just the fright. The paramedics also told us, and I quote “ this is not an emergency!” and they told us to go to our family clinic. I guess all they saw was an over reactive parent, a crying baby and a dumb 13 year-old. We called my mother and she drove us, (by placing him in a car-seat) to the clinic. We saw that there was an hour wait and still my nephew was crying without opening his eyes, so we decided to head to the Burnaby hospital- the emergency room. We got him in a room almost right away, we had to wait a while and over time he started to move his hands and his right leg. Then they sent him into x-ray, we found out he had a broken femur, ( the hardest bone in the human body.) this took from 11:48am to about 3:00pm to get him x-rayed. He was un-able to be treated at this hospital, they couldn’t even find the appropriate IV size, so he was to be treated at another hospital. They found a bed at the children’s hospital and then we lost it. Then we had the bone specialists from the children’s hospital and the Surrey hospital talking over possible actions that could be taken. The Surrey hospital wouldn’t anesthetize a child under1, his 1st birthday was in 6 days. They went over the possible choices for my nephew. One was to be transported over to a Calgary hospital, that would have been the best. This took until 10:00 at night when he finally got transported. We ended up going to Surrey hospital and staying the night, also finding out that he would be needing a hip spike, or also known as a body cast. It would go from the chest to the ankle of his left foot and to shorts length on the right leg. His mother stayed overnight in the last available room in the Surrey hospital. In the afternoon of the next day, around 12:00pm they both got transported to the Children’s hospital for his body cast to be applied. They got the body cast on and they actually found a room for them to stay in. For his age everything is limited! Especially in hospitals. They spent another night in the hospital. They were allowed home after 47 hours at 3 hospitals with very limited beds and staff. That’s where you come in. We weren’t allowed to be transported earlier due to an amount of political junk that a kid my age wouldn’t understand. I am concerned about other families that might have to go through the CRAP that our out or province family had to. They have extended their flight and they are staying at our Burnaby house until April. We are really dissappointed in our province's medical system! it is pathetic. We will keep trying to have us HEARD! I hope something will come out of my nephew’s pain and this letter. I hope it will do more than become some fuel for a fire place or a coaster. Please change our health system for little tikes and bigger ones too!

- Burnaby residence, Stephanie Dawe