Surrey-North Delta Leader
Health Minister Terry Lake has ordered a strategic and operational review of Fraser Health to help contain rising costs and deal with persistent hospital congestion.
The health region is B.C.’s largest – it consumes $2.5 billion a year on behalf of 1.6 million residents – but it’s running over budget once again this year and Lake said it will require another infusion of extra money to meet patient demand.
The Fraser region population has grown by 1.3 per cent a year over the past three years and the authority has received budget increases averaging six per cent a year – more than the 4.8 per cent average for other health regions.
Despite that, Fraser went one per cent over budget last year – the third year in a row it’s failed to stay within its allocation.
“That doesn’t add up for us,” Lake said. “Fraser has not been able to manage the budget targets and we want to understand why.”
He said continued budget hikes of five to seven per cent can’t continue either.
It’s too soon to say how far Fraser will overshoot this year’s budget but another one per cent overrun would take an extra $25 million – money Lake said will be found from the core operations of the health ministry, not raided from other health regions.
The review comes after unionized nurses said understaffed emergency rooms are packed at hospitals across the region, in addition to the newly opened ER at Surrey Memorial.
Fraser Health officials have also grappled with other high-profile incidents in recent weeks, including the case of a 90-year-old blind woman sent home after midnight via taxi from Delta Hospital.
Lake said the review won’t examine such incidents and he denied claims the system is in chaos, calling hospital congestion nothing new.
Lake said the review doesn’t mean he wants service cuts but a wide search for solutions, including how spending is balanced between acute care in hospitals versus preventative primary care that can keep people healthier and avoid admissions.
“The answer to every problem is not more money,” he said.
Lake will appoint officials from his own ministry, the finance ministry and various health regions to the strategic review committee to work with Fraser Health in identifying priority areas for action by next May.
The new three-year plan is to identify service targets, operational and financial objectives and outline how Fraser Health’s programming and structure can help achieve them.
NDP health critic Judy Darcy said Fraser Health has run with too few beds and staff for years, creating systemic problems and routinely overflowing ERs.
“Because of the underfunding we’ve seen a whole series of cuts as well as this crisis in emergency rooms that’s getting worse,” she said.
She questioned where the review team will look for savings.
“What is it they’re going to cut?” Darcy asked. “We’re already seeing cuts that are pretty damaging, to mental health in particular.