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Volume Ten, Number Two   March 2005

ER Crisis Tip of Medicare Iceberg

Emergency Room Crisis Predicted A Year Ago

Jim Lipkovits

The Liberal “New Era” included plans for the wholesale restructuring of British Columbia’s  medical services system. A restructuring which would try to prepare the system , through privatization, for two-tier medical delivery and at the same time break health unions. The changes, based on corporate business models were set in motion with appalling consequences: BC’s medical delivery system has now been grievously harmed.

The damage is now becoming more obvious as dozens of hospitals and medical facilities have been closed and services terminated throughout the province -- not only closed, some facilities have been totally demolished, reduced to rubble. 

St Vincent's HospitalTo implement these changes, the Liberal government hired corporate “mergers and acquisition” type hit-men to ram a Liberal corporate reorganization down BC’s throat. Four years now they’ve been cutting and slashing provincial medicare. BC medical services have had widespread damage inflicted now with alarmingly frequent reports of worsening medical conditions. In less than four years, the Campbell Liberals have eliminated thousands of long-term care beds while failing to deliver on their promise to build new ones and they have shut down or downgraded hospitals in communities including Delta, Kimberly, New Westminster, Castlegar, Nelson, Burnaby and Vancouver.

The most recent notorious example has come  in light of almost daily revelations regarding the crisis in emergency care at Surrey Memorial Hospital.

Surrey-Panorama Ridge MLA Jagrup Brar has been fighting for the Surrey Memorial Hospital since his election. "The Premier owes it to the residents of Surrey to ensure that we get to the bottom of this mess," said Brar. "Without an independent review, my constituents will continue to lose faith in our health care system, which has been under attack by this government since it took office."

According to the Hospital Employees’ Union the breakdown in ER care at Surrey Memorial Hospital was predicted almost a year ago and can be directly linked to the Campbell Liberals’ failure to deliver on their promise to provide more long-term care beds. The Cochrane Report into problems at the Surrey Memorial ER concluded that: “Because of the high occupancy rate of alternate level of care patients within the hospital, flow-through in the Emergency Department is limited and commonly curtailed.”

A year earlier, the Fraser Health Authority acknowledged that it had the highest proportion of non-acute patients occupying hospital beds and among the lowest number of residential care beds per 1,000 population over 75 years of age.

NDP Leader Carole James called on Premier Campbell to order an independent review of capital planning in the Fraser Health Authority over the past four years specifically addressing possible expansion and adequate resourcing of Surrey Memorial's emergency room.

"Despite mounting evidence that the crisis in emergency care has been growing since he took office, Premier Campbell's record on this issue has been to simply deny there is a problem," said James. "His only response has been to order the firing of the same CEO who blew the whistle on the government's lack of action."

James said the review should be conducted by an independent health care expert with senior experience managing a major public health care system, and she said that, given the growing crisis, the review needs to be conducted within a short time.

"This government's story changes almost daily," said James. "One day the government says that everything's fine and the next day we see media reports showing that the problem goes even deeper than anyone had suspected.

"The Premier has lost all credibility on this issue. That's why I am calling on him to immediately order an independent review of emergency care at Surrey Memorial Hospital and a full account of the capital planning history at Fraser Health Authority. And that review must be released to the public in its entirety."
"To date the Premier has demonstrated over and over again that his political future trumps the concerns of patients. British Columbians deserve better."

Zorica Bosancic of the Hospital Employees Union says that the residents of Surrey are paying a high price for the inaction of the Campbell Liberal government.

“The crisis in the Surrey Memorial ER was predictable and has been compounded by this government’s failure to live up to its pre-election commitment to seniors’ care,” says Bosancic.
Since the 2001 election nine funded and partially funded long-term care facilities have been closed and the number of funded beds in many others has been cut  resulting in a net loss in long-term care beds and more pressure on hospitals like Surrey Memorial.

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