Recent History – 2002
July 12, 2002, By Jamie Dirom, Daily News Staff
From health care concerns to health care horror stories, there was a little bit of everything at a meeting to discuss the future of health care in the region Thursday night.
The universal theme was grave concern for the direction health care in B.C. is headed.
A crowd of more than 400 people attended the meeting, called by South Peace MLA Blair Lekstrom to discuss health issues.
Issues discussed at the meeting included the discontinuation of housekeeping services for area seniors, hospital bed reductions, transportation issues and the future of seniors care.
“I think it’s fair to say that the reason we’re here tonightÉ is the lack of quality communication on what’s actually happening in health care,” Lekstrom said.
Andrew Neuner, COO for Northeast Health Services said officials will be working to make it easier to communicate with them. Starting the week after next, an office will be established in Dawson Creek. Neuner will be there on a regular basis.
Aside from communication issues, Neuner discussed the financial reality facing the region — a $75 million budget which will not increase in the coming years. Based on cost projections, that means the region needs to find between $7 and 8 million in savings in the coming years.
“At the end of the day, the same money you got last year doesn’t pay for what it cost this year,” Neuner said.
He added that while savings do need to be found, the health authority plans to do it with no closures.
“We have not closed facilities, there are no facilities on any list anywhere to be closed,” he said.
One cost savings, which has been already implemented to some extent, is a 20 per cent reduction in administration at the health authority.
That change won’t account for all the financial savings the authority needs to make. Neuner said the health authority is looking to monitor the use of its services and it will also look at innovative ways to improve its service delivery.
At one point during the discussion on administration, Neuner was asked how much money he earned. His salary, he said after the meeting, is $102,000 a year.
Much to the disappointment of many on hand, however, he would not elaborate on the sorts of changes that could be made.
On the topic of long-term care, Neuner said “No door will be closed until another is opened.”
While many of the members of the public who spoke thanked Lekstrom for holding the meeting, the questions and comments tended to show extreme concern or unhappiness about the current state of the health care system.
Trudy Lord, the woman who organized a letter-writing campaign in Dawson Creek presented the panel with a bag of more than 1,000 signed letters and announced that she had collected an overall total of more than 2,000. She started the effort less than a month ago.
Lord talked about the province’s commitment to the Vancouver Olympic bid and its commitment to health care in a statement she read to the crowd.
“Last week (Premier Gordon) Campbell acknowledged that some people will question how we can afford the Winter Olympics,” Lord said. “He responded by saying the Olympics is about our future, it’s about sports, it’s about excellence and showing British Columbia to the world.
“Are we sacrificing our sick and dying British Columbians to make a better sports show for the world?”
Lord was one of many people who took the opportunity to take the microphone over the course of the meeting, which lasted longer than three hours. Many had questions and even more wanted to relate their stories of things that have happened or are happening at local facilities.
City Coun. Bud Powell told the panel about his 95-year-old father who lives in Rotary Park.
“My dad just got a letter two days ago, saying that his housekeeping is going to be discontinued,” Powell said.
His family realized it would have to help with the cleaning, but when it came time to clean his father’s unit, the senior Powell would have nothing to do with it, the audience heard.
“They don’t want their family to do it. If it’s paid for, they feel they’ve earned that,” Powell said. “He’s lived for 95 years, he needs that one hour a day where someone can come in and do the laundry. He says he doesn’t, I know he does.
“He’s 95 years old, and you’re going to cut one hour of a woman’s wages?”
Neuner explained that these sort of services are not considered medically necessary and that the northeast region is among the last in the province to stop such housekeeping visits.
Lekstrom said stories such as Powell’s are what he wants to hear from his constituents.
“These are the things that I need to hear about, I need to deal with in our political system,” he said.
He added that if services like housekeeping can keep seniors in independent situations and out of long-term care homes, it may be a better value to the province to maintain that service.
Others brought horror stories about being transported to another city for health services and then being stranded without transportation back — one woman said when she went to Prince George with her husband who needed treatment, after the procedure was done they were told to go home.
When they said they were waiting for the plane, they were told it wouldn’t be coming. Her ill husband ended up being transported back to Dawson Creek in the back seat of a pickup truck.
There is work being done to address that issue, Lekstrom assured the audience. A new transportation program is in the works, with the intent of preventing such situations.
Neuner added that an agreement is being developed for patients who access health care in Alberta. An ambulance will be provided within 24 hours, and in cases where an ambulance is not available on the same day, a hotel room will be provided to health care recipients.
While they directly addressed several of the comments over the course of the evening, when pressed for specifics on certain issues the panel could only respond by saying that it was looking for solutions. On the question of long-term care, Neuner’s statement that “No door will be closed until another is opened,” was repeated several times, eventually eliciting groans and catcalls from the audience.
Lekstrom made commitments to find answers to some of the specific questions asked, such as how the number and cost of administrative staff at the health authority compares to numbers prior to changes to the health authority structure in the region.
Several health care workers related stories of poor planning at facilities. Some talked about cases in which capital projects such as new equipment, renovations and sidewalks were being done while the greater need — patient care — suffered.
“I have worked at my workplace for 18 years and I have never seen it in such a mess,” said one health worker.
Some talked of decisions to purchase equipment that was infrequently used or, in some cases, useless to facilities before it was even in place.
Others said that during consultations it often seemed as though consultants had already made decisions before talking to staff at health care facilities.
After the meeting, reaction was mixed. While most attendees seemed happy the meeting was called and to get some of the issues into the open, reactions were mixed on what was said by the panel.
Many crowd members characterized the panel’s responses as being evasive and providing little in the way of valuable information.
Others were not so negative, saying they understand the challenges the health authority and government are facing and noting that the current health authority structure is less than a year old.
Lekstrom said he felt the meeting went “very well,” adding that he was happy with the size of the turnout and that people were civil and respectful.
He added that the range of issues brought up at the meeting reflected what he’s heard at his office.
Lekstrom encouraged anyone who has concerns about the health care system to visit him at his office and bring the concerns to his attention.
Neuner also felt the meeting was a success.
“I think it went well,” he said.
“I hope people understand that we’re listening and we’re trying to do our best to come up with solutions.”