Metro Vancouver Faces Severe Cuts To Health Care, Internal Government Documents Show

VANCOUVER – Internal Fraser Health Authority documents reveal that under the B.C. Liberals’ real plan for health care, the health authority is shutting down operating rooms and acute care beds, withdrawing support for programs that help lower Adrian Dixhospital admissions, and dismantling pediatric and maternity units across the Fraser Valley, the New Democrats said today.

A communications strategy prepared by the FHA during the second week of July, obtained by the New Democrats, lists the clinical care cuts planned for the region. The document also contains responses FHA executives can use to defend and downplay the cutbacks in meetings with stakeholders, the public and reporters.

“This document illustrates the price residents in the Fraser Valley will pay because the B.C. Liberals misrepresented their plans for health care in a bid to get re-elected,” said Adrian Dix , New Democrat health critic.

“Before and during the campaign B.C. Liberals pledged to protect and maintain public health care services. They accused the NDP of fear mongering when we said that the financial situation of the health authorities could translate into cuts to patient care. Then, after the election, Health Minister Kevin Falcon confirmed that patients would suffer because the health authorities faced a $360 million shortfall.”

The FHA alone has to reduce costs by $160 million. The nine page communications plan shows that to overcome this shortfall, the FHA is undertaking measures like:

  • closing up to five and half operating rooms as part of reducing the number of medically-necessary elective surgeries by 10 per cent, in addition to cutting surgical procedures during the Olympics;
  • pursuing a plan to cut maternity and pediatric services from certain sites, potentially Peace Arch Hospital and Langley Memorial, plus neonatal intensive care units;
  • downgrading 200 acute care beds, even as FHA studies show the region needs much more acute care capacity;
  • reducing the availability of outpatient clinics by 20 per cent;
  • downgrading the Mission Memorial ER into an urgent care centre;
  • closing diabetes programs in Delta and Mission;
  • withdrawing support for various community-based programs in mental health and seniors’ care, outreach to isolated seniors, and eliminating its grant that helps CNIB deliver critical programs;
  • offloading the cost of ambulance transfer to patients;
  • cutting seniors’ day programs by 25 per cent; and,
  • shutting down existing residential care beds.

Dix explained that the severity of the cuts is also a direct result of the B.C. Liberals manipulating the health authority’s budget process for their political wellbeing.

“To cover up information showing how, if re-elected, the B.C. Liberals would reduce public health care, the health minister ordered the FHA to delay submitting its budget until after the election. By making the health authority wait four months into the fiscal year, the Campbell government has amplified the cutbacks.”

Dix said this draft communications plan illustrates not just the B.C. Liberals’ lack of integrity, but also their managerial incompetence.

“Forcing the FHA to make deep cuts to prevent a deficit with eight months remaining in the fiscal year is no way to run a public health care system. It creates chaos and increases costs in the long run.

“Kevin Falcon is issuing directions to gut the region’s health system at time when the FHA identifies that the region’s population is projected to increase by over 40 per cent. Shutting down or reducing services at this juncture puts local communities even further behind in delivering quality health care,” said Dix.

Sue Hammell“It takes considerable time to build programs and the teams that deliver them well. Closing operating rooms alone means skilled surgeons and nurses will leave area hospitals, after the considerable effort expended to convince them to practice in the Fraser Valley. These professionals are in high demand, in part because there is a shortage.

Sue Hammell , deputy health critic and MLA for Surrey Green Timbers, added that while Minister Falcon keeps insisting he wants the health care system to be more cost effective, he is forcing cuts to community-based programs that improve people’s wellbeing and reduce pressures on acute care and emergency rooms, lowering overall costs as a result. “On this note, eliminating support for the CNIB amounts to reckless public policy,” she said.

The B.C. Liberals initially planned for the FHA and other regional health authorities to reveal details about clinical care cuts on July 13, 2009, with Health Minister Kevin Falcon publicly releasing his letters to the health authorities instructing them to overcome their budget shortfalls.  The health authorities and Minister of Health then shifted to a new plan.

Under the revised strategy, Falcon released the letters on July 15, and CEOs then issued out memos saying more details about reductions in clinical services would be shared in the coming weeks.

”It appears that under the new communications strategy, the cuts will be rolled out in hopes of diluting negative reaction from local communities,” said Dix.

Carole James and the New Democrats are encouraging local communities to help them in the fight to protect health care in B.C.

“This is not the B.C. Liberals’ health care system, it is the public’s health care system. There is no chance that the Liberals would have been re-elected if the public knew of their plans for health care,” said Dix. “The B.C. Liberals were not given a mandate to unilaterally change the definition and scope of public health care, especially during a time when people need these services even more.”