SURREY — It’s not just the B.C. Nurses’ Union who thinks Fraser Health needs an overhaul, Victoria does, too.
On Friday, Health Minister Terry Lake announced a strategic and operational review for the Fraser Health Authority. This came a day after the nurses’ union held a press conference to bring attention to chronic overcrowding, understaffing and inadequate working conditions for its nurses that combine to create unsafe working conditions at hospitals throughout the region.
Lake said the review committee will create a new three-year strategic and operational plan, to be completed by the end of May 2014, as well as a new budget plan for the remainder of the 2013-14 fiscal year, since Fraser Health is over budget for the third year in a row.
“At some point you have to say, OK, what are the core reasons that we’re still having these challenges and we think putting this strategic review team together is one way of getting at the those answers,” said Lake in a conference call Friday morning after the announcement.
He said Fraser Health has had larger budget increases in recent years than other health authorities, and just throwing more money at the problem is not a sustainable solution.
Fraser Health is expected to be short about the same amount as it was last year, although the final numbers won’t be ready until the end of the month. The shortfall, Lake said, will have to come from his ministry’s core operations so as to not adversely affect other health authorities that did meet their budget targets.
He also said that the strategic and operational review committee will be looking at the services the authority provides, how it does so, the mix of primary and acute care, how to care for a diverse and quickly growing population, and even whether or not the boundaries of the region need to be redrawn. The review will also look at the management of Fraser Health, even though Lake said he has confidence in the current board, which is welcoming the intervention.
Debra McPherson, president of the B.C. Nurses’ Union, said nurses in Fraser Health are at their wits’ end, particularly those in the new ER of Surrey Memorial Hospital, although she has had “desperate pleas for help” from Delta and Peace Arch Hospitals and others as well.
“We’re tired of Band-Aid solutions, you know, a little bit of overcapacity in the hallways here, a little bit of opening up an extra unit there temporarily,” said McPherson. “We need a plan.”
She said she was called to come out to SMH’s new ER on Saturday, Oct. 26 to see the nurses’ situation for herself.
“When I went out there they were literally running,” she said. “They had over 60 admitted patients, their wait room was full with about a six-hour backup just waiting to be seen by a physician and I had some really senior nurses who’ve worked in emerg for a long time crying.”
Aside from chronic staffing shortages and poor relief planning, McPherson said the ER nurses seem to have been forgotten even in the building’s planning.
“They built that new tower without a nursing break room in it so maybe they didn’t intend for them to have breaks,” she said.
“They have no lockers, they have no secure place to have their lunch. Right now they’re temporarily going to what will be the volunteer gift shop up one floor from the emergency. It’s not locked, it’s all glass, you know, it’s not private, it’s not quiet and it’s certainly not comfortable.”
The Opposition NDP is not impressed with the review plan, calling it a ploy to buy time.
“The Liberals want to look like they are finding solutions to this totally unacceptable reality, when in fact they have denied the problem, and failed to find a solution that will help patients today,” said NDP health critic Judy Darcy.
Darcy said the situation at Fraser Health has revealed that the government has no vision when it comes to health care, other than scrambling from crisis to crisis to reduce the damage they have caused by cuts to health authorities across the province.
“Surrey Memorial just opened the doors on its brand new ER, and already we are hearing that patients are being treated in hallways. This should prove to the B.C. Liberals once and for all that our health system is complex, and while simple infrastructure investments are welcome and needed, they are no substitute for real investment on wards and in communities.”
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