When fog settles in, our vision is limited  |  George Le Masurier photo

The Week: VIHA and province disrespect our hospital board, medical staff and the public

Dec 6, 2019 | Commentary, Health Care, News

By George Le Masurier

As a retired journalist who has seen the health care system from up close on both sides of the Canada-US border, I can tell you that we are fortunate to live here.

It’s true we don’t have a Mayo Clinic or a John Hopkins University, and there aren’t storefronts offering MRIs on every street corner (only a slight exaggeration). But we have our fair share of brilliant and competent people providing us with health care, from brain surgeons right through to admitting clerks.

I have retired friends in the Puget Sound who pay $1,000 per month for comparable health insurance that used to cost BC residents just $75 a month, and is now free. For their inflated cost, my American friends get little more than better access to technology and procedures, although that can be critical in certain situations.

I say this to put my next sentence in context.

Many of those who work in the healthcare field on Vancouver Island — the doctors, nurses, laboratory workers, kitchen workers in hospitals, receptionists and more — believe that the Vancouver Island Health Authority is poorly managed. Employee surveys at Nanaimo General and the two North Island Hospitals in 2017/2018 bear this out.

And sadly, with a few exceptions, our elected officials and our mainstream Island media have let them off the hook.

VIHA, or Island Health if you prefer, is a secretive organization whose top decision-makers appear out of touch with the people they are supposed to serve. It’s an organization that could not properly plan and build new hospitals in Campbell River and the Comox Valley; planning flaws that after two years  still have not been fully corrected.

How else can you describe the VIHA executives that have imposed reductions of pathology services north of the Malahat, especially on the North Island? Or, how they have dealt with the public that has explained the harm that these changes have made to patient care? We have lost critical onsite clinical pathologists’ services in Campbell River, and soon, if VIHA gets its way, in the Comox Valley, too.

The centralization of clinical pathology interpretation and diagnosis in Victoria is a disservice to north Islanders. Next on the block might be medical imaging. After that, who knows?

 

DECISIONS MADE IN ISOLATION

VIHA hatched this plan to shut down certain laboratory services at our hospitals without prior consultation with our doctors, our lab staff or even our elected officials at the Comox Strathcona Regional Hospital District. Consulting the public, of course, would never cross their minds.

North Island medical professionals, such as Dr. Aref Tabarsi, a Campbell River general pathologist, learned of this centralization plan through an out-of-the-blue phone call. “Don’t do this work any more, send it to doctors in Victoria.”

This change has created potential life-threatening situations and, at the very least, has added unnecessary stress to people already suffering through longer wait times, increased uncertainty and delays in treatment. North Island doctors are concerned that people will die as a direct result of not having clinical pathologists’ services onsite in the Valley and Campbell River.

And here’s another problem: our elected hospital board directors have no say at all about operations at our hospitals. The extent of their job, it appears, is to ask taxpayers to pony up 40 percent of the capital costs for projects proposed by VIHA.

To their credit, hospital board directors wrote a letter to the VIHA board chair and BC Health Minister Adrian Dix asking them to restore the lab services VIHA has grabbed for Victoria. That would, in turn, free up funds for hiring a needed third general pathologist for the Campbell River Hospital.

That was last spring. To date there has been no response to their letter from Health Minister Dix and directors who asked to meet with him at the UBCM Convention were rebuffed. VIHA did respond with a presentation notable for its flawed graphs, inaccurate information and a confusing explanation that did not address the board’s concerns.

Now, the board is struggling with how to respond to this treatment and whether they even can advocate for the citizens of the North Island. It’s a problem foisted upon them by VIHA, which has neglected public sentiment and deflected its accountability.

 

HOSPITAL BOARD MUST ADVOCATE

The public has naturally turned to the one and only group of regionally accountable individuals available, the regional hospital board.

It was the hospital board that committed North Island taxpayers to pay for 40 percent of what we all assumed were two complete hospitals. We expected they would come with fully-functioning laboratories suitable for community hospitals, which we already had at the old Campbell River Hospital and at St. Joseph’s.

Now we have hospitals with diminished laboratory services, and who knows what further reductions are yet to come. This is not what we were promised when our hospital board committed us to a $267 million debt.

How is it possible that our elected local officials who sit on the Comox Strathcona Hospital Board are reduced to nothing more than a conduit through which VIHA extracts capital funding from local taxpayers with the blessing of a provincial government that thinks it cannot be held to account?

We elected the hospital board directors. It’s shameful that the province takes our money and treats them with such disrespect.

Can the board accept this role, standing idly by rather than rising up to advocate for North Island patients? Isn’t it right that, at the very least, they demand to have the services we paid expected? And that they continue to demand it until full hospital services are restored?

Their advocacy is important and can be powerful. And it’s their obligation to us, the constituents who are paying the bill.

 

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