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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.

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Federal Budget Credibility

Does it pass the test?

Marc Lee

The 2005 federal budget was an important credibility test for Paul Martin’s government. While Martin has been actively involved in shaping the budget for more than a decade, this was his first as an elected Prime Minister. The promises of the last election campaign are still fresh in public memory, and Martin has said he is committed to restoring trust in government. Delivering on those election promises would be a good place to start.

With deals for health care and equalization already announced, the budget contains some first steps towards a child care program, a new deal for cities, and an action plan for Kyoto. But dollar amounts in the budget are disappointingly small in 2005/06, with funding creeping up over five years.

Instead of using large projected surpluses to make more meaningful investments, the Liberals chose to buy the support of the Conservatives with some lavish tax cuts. The biggest surprise was the tabling of corporate income tax cuts that will cost $2.5 billion when fully phased in.

There are other measures that will be greeted favourably in the Shaughnesseys and Forest Hills of Canada. The RRSP contribution limit will be gradually raised to $22,000, and foreign content limits — that keep investment capital in Canada in exchange for the tax shelter — have been eliminated completely. These measures primarily benefit people with very high incomes.

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Quality of Life or Warehousing?            

Carole Pearson                               

Budget cuts to health care by the Gordon Campbell Liberals have hurt BC seniors. Those who were able to stay in their own homes with a little outside help may now have to contemplate institutionalized care. For some already in extended care or multi-level care facilities, quality of life has become a concern.

Last year, the 200 residents at the North Shore Kiwanis Care Centre, an extended care facility, were left without music and recreation programs that were not only therapeutic but brought pleasure into their lives.

“This is people’s home, not a hospital. It’s the last home most of them will have. By losing that component (music and recreation), you’re losing a huge chunk of what we consider to be a good life,” says Maureen Ashfield, Health Sciences Association regional steward, the union representing the therapists.

Since 2003, the Kiwanis Centre has undergone a series of cost-saving changes, including the privatization of food services and housekeeping. Cash-strapped management implemented new schedules that, among other changes, eliminated music therapy altogether and cut the recreation therapist’s hours to two and a half days a week. When the recreation therapist resigned as a result, the vacancy was not posted, much less filled, for months.

Susan Lewis, wife of a Kiwanis Centre patient, told a North Vancouver District council meeting last May, “Music therapy is not an expendable frill.” Calling it an invaluable part of a holistic approach to resident care, she said the cuts“adversely effect the quality of care.”

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