Leaked documents detail health service cuts, closures on North Shore

Vancouver Coastal Health Authority targets tens of millions of dollars in reductions in acute, long-term care, home support and mental health services

Leaked budget documents show that the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority (VCHA) is preparing to take an axe to health care services on the North Shore including the closure of 367 long-term care beds, 10 beds at Lion’s Gate Hospital, along with cuts in support services that the authority admits could impact patient care.

More specific details contained in the leaked documents are being released by the B.C. Nurses Union at a press conference this morning, March 22, in North Vancouver.

And, in an alarming sign of the Campbell government’s ideological zeal to dismantle public Medicare, the leaked “draft” documents openly discusses Victoria implementing changes in the Hospital Act to make patients pay additional charges for “minor” surgical procedures at LGH. This change—along with new provisions to allow “private payers” to queue jump and gain access to OR time—is identified as an important revenue generating opportunity for health facilities.

The cuts and service reductions that will clobber the North Shore are part of a broader plan in which VCHA will implement tens of millions of dollars of reductions in acute and community care, and mental health services region-wide because of the funding cuts and privatization policies of the Campbell government.

HEU spokesperson Zorica Bosancic says the leaked documents show the true extent of the Campbell government’s attacks on Medicare. “These cuts will have a significant impact on our communities,” she said. Encouraging HEU members to vote yes to approve the union’s action plan that includes authorization to take job action, Bosancic says “it’s time for every member to stand up and be counted in the fight to protect health care services.”

Overall, cuts in the North Shore/Coast Garibaldi health services area—which is part of the VCHA and includes Squamish, Powell River and the Sunshine Coast—total $8.4 million in 2002/03, and a further minimum of $7.5 million in 2003/04 with further cuts in support services still to be added in.

In addition to the 367 long-term care beds that will close on the North Shore, another 81 beds will close at the Olive Devaud Residence in Powell River, as will 6 beds at that community’s hospital. These closures will dramatically increase wait lists for seniors’ care. Only 120 assisted living spaces will be added in which elderly residents with significant care needs will be forced to live on their own, with limited health and support services.

Other “highlights” for the health services area include:

  • $2.6 million in cuts through so-called “efficiencies and productivity increases” in support services in 02/03, including elimination of services “not essential” to patient care, reduced office cleaning, reduced security, switchboard and info desk coverage, and reduced retail food outlets. (Support service cuts for 03/04 await more information);
  • mental health services are also being hit hard, with $813,000 of planned program cuts to community grants, clubhouse programs, outreach workers and all other “non-housing” contracts in 02/03; and
  • home support will also be slashed by $1.6 million in 02/03 and by a further $700,000 in 03/04.

The leaked documents also acknowledge that cuts will decrease access and “lower service quality,” and may increase ER visits. The VCHA also admits the mental health cuts may result in increased ER visits and greater strain on existing psych beds.

It’s also noted that reduced support services may cause “inefficiencies in patient escorts, reduced cleaning frequencies in patient care areas could delay discharge cleaning and/or have infection control implications, and reduced sterile supply department staff could increase turnaround time for OR instruments.”

Despite the significant cuts, closures and reductions, the leaked report claims only 60.2 FTE contract staff positions will be eliminated in the health services area.