Protection for Saint Mary's
Campbell government has a way with words; they could even
teach George Orwell what "New Speak" really means.
release on closing Saint Mary's Hospital is captioned
"Province Protects Services for Fraser Health Patients".
You would never guess that the release concerns pulling the
plug on the hospital that has provided 117
years of service to the community.
why he couldn't work with the hospital board to resolve problems,
Health Minister Colin Hansen referred to the Morfitt report
that is on the government website (pdf).
Former Auditor General George Morfitt was asked to report
on three issues:
viability of St. Mary's current business plan, including
the development of revenue generating programs and services
from other sources to support the sustainability of the
hospital in its ongoing role to provide services to the
Fraser Health Authority;
capacity of St. Mary's to implement the business plan successfully
and in the time frame required by the Agreement in Principle
between St. Mary's and the Fraser Health Authority;
feasibility of the concept of the "purchaser-provider"
Agreement in Principle between St. Mary's and the Fraser
was not asked to report on the most important question - will
patient care suffer as a result of changes in the Fraser Health
Region that involve Saint Mary's?
set of changes to the hospital originated in July 2002 when
the Health Authority issued a notice of termination of its
affiliation agreement with the hospital. Until then the hospital
had received $29.4 million in global operating funding. The
hospital board and the community reacted in shock. In early
2003 the board managed to negotiate a new arrangement that
offered hope to save the hospital. That agreement would have
seen funding from the Health Authority reduced over five fiscal
quarters, beginning with the second quarter of fiscal 2003-04
and ending by the second quarter of 2004-05, with funding
reduced to an annual rate of $10.85 million. Subsequent negotiations
increased that to $11.85 million as a result of including
a hospice program.
819, 2003, Saint Mary's wrote to Premier Campbell stating
that negotiations with the Health Authority were continuing
but that the hospital could not survive an immediate cash
flow crisis. Morfitt was asked to do his report, and on November
3, 2003, government and the Health Authority issued its New
Speak news release which said that "Services previously
provided at Saint Mary's will now be provided at other area
hospitals". Nothing was said about what will happen to
Saint Mary's until NDP Opposition critic, Jenny Kwan, got
the Health Minister to say that is not his problem!
legislative question period on Tuesday, November 4th, to ask
Hansen what would happen to patients who were on waiting lists
at Saint Mary's. Hansen spoke about already scheduled increases
in operating capacity at Eagle Ridge Hospital but he did not
say how much the closure of Saint Mary's would interfere with
previous plans for the use of that capacity. Kwan said "The
fact is Eagle Ridge's wait-list has actually gone up, and
since this government took office, orthopedic wait-lists have
exploded, rising by more than 53 percent. St. Mary's is an
important centre for orthopedic surgery. Now, as a result
of its closure, patients will have to wait even longer."
Mary's may be best known as an eye surgery centre. Kwan said
that "There are 1,433 British Columbians waiting now
for cataract surgery at St. Mary's. Most of those patients
will be transferred to Burnaby Hospital, where there are already
780 patients waiting for the same procedure. Some of those
patients have been on the wait-list for six months. Can the
minister tell patients how much longer they will have to be
forced to wait for cataract surgery as a result of his decision
to close St. Mary's?" Instead of answering the question,
Hansen said "I have every confidence that the Fraser
health authority is going to be able to build the capacity
that is necessary to make sure patients continue to get access
to the care they are counting on, whether that's at any of
the facilities in the region. The decision as to what the
future of St. Mary's is, is clearly up to the board at St.
is no reason anyone should have any confidence that patients
will not suffer as a result of the closure of Saint Mary's.
Those who have waited while nearly blind, or while in extreme
pain on an orthopedic wait list, will consider each day of
additional agony a violation of the BC Liberal promise that
health care would be provided when and where people need it.
reported to the government that "A difficulty arises
when the authority moves from providing broad-based service
funding to the purchasing of a smaller base of services. The
service provider is faced with having to either downsize or
secure alternate sources of revenue to replace the reduction
in funding, and do so over a relatively short time period.
This is, as described above, the conundrum facing St. Mary's."
Saint Mary's found that they couldn't cut more that $6 million
from their $29.4 million budget without negatively impacting
on services they would need even if they succeeded in catering
to ICBC and WCB. Even though Morfitt recognized that the hospital
faced difficulties in either downsizing or finding new money
in a "relatively short time period", he concluded
that there is nothing wrong with the basic "purchaser-provider
who depend on government contracts, whether they be the new
providers of contracted out services or companies in the forest
industry with their disappearing tenures, need to take a lesson
from Saint Mary's. Government can and will act abruptly with
no concern for the consequences of its actions. The focus
is on the bottom line even if that means longer waits for
those in pain.