Chronic congestion shows Fraser Health review failed to fix acute care problems

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Judy Darcy, New Democrat spokesperson on health

Judy Darcy, New Democrat  spokesperson on health
Judy Darcy,
New Democrat
spokesperson on health
Victoria: The B.C. Liberals may have reviewed the problems in the Fraser Health region, but they didn’t fix them.
That became clear last weekend when Surrey Memorial Hospital experienced troubling levels of overcrowding in its emergency room and multiple infection outbreaks. The situation even prompted Fraser Health to issue a memo warning staff about the unusually high patient volume.
While the emergency room usually treats 300-plus people in the course of a day, last weekend between 400 and 500 people came seeking treatment each day.
The volume appeared to slow after the weekend. But after months of warnings from front-line professionals that a crisis in patient care is coming unless staffing shortages are fixed, people who rely on Surrey Memorial are left wondering whether the B.C. Liberals will finally step in and take action, or simply sit idle and wait for the crisis to pass?
We have heard little this week from the B.C. Liberals about the long waits at Surrey Memorial. But when they were announcing their plan to review Fraser Health, it was a different story.
Though the B.C. Liberals knew about the serious and sustained problems in the Fraser Health system, they opted to review the system for cost-saving measures rather than take action to fix the problems. When he announced the review in 2013, Health Minister Terry Lake said it would figure out how to “bend the cost curve down” on spending at Fraser Health, denying that additional front-line staff in emergency rooms were what was needed.
Making effective use of dollars is, of course, an important consideration. But the minister’s blithe assertion that the only thing necessary is to “bend the cost curve down” ignores the facts from the actual report. The report revealed many serious problems facing patients in Fraser Health: the lowest number, per-capita, acute care beds in the province; the lowest percentage of residential care beds; an actual decline in home support and home nursing hours; insufficient mental health and addiction beds and services; higher infection rates; and more congestion and longer waits in Emergency Departments
The report found that 27% of the population did not have a family doctor or other primary care provider. And, despite the Minister’s denials, it was apparent that general staffing shortages played a role in the problems at Fraser Health. These are problems of funding, problems that lie directly at the feet of the minister. The review did propose some important changes that would take pressure off emergency rooms – but these changes can’t happen unless the government commits to sustained funding that would bring the region in line with the rest of the province – and to increased staffing levels.
But, despite the serious problems uncovered in the review, the B.C. Liberals did not take action to correct the fact that our fastest-growing health region has the lowest per-capital funding in the province.
They refused to commit to strategic investments that would truly take pressure off the acute care system – like integrated teams of doctors, nurse practitioners and other health care providers in community health centres and more home support, residential care beds and mental health and addictions services.