Sunday, July 19, 2009

Will potential health care cuts be cause for concern on the North coast?

Observers of the local health care situation are getting a bit worried about the recent dedication towards budgetary concerns as outlined by the Minister of Health Kevin Falcon.

The North coast is currently down a number of doctors and a large number of patients currently have no family physician, and the worry now is that the governments plan to reign in spending at the province’s health authorities may have a negative impact on our local situation.

Northern Health anticipates that the Northwest share of the 14 million dollars in cuts will come in at around 2 million dollars for 2008-09, where those cuts come from is the main thrust of the current debate, with the North Coasts MLA Gary Coons expecting the cuts will be made from support positions in the region.

While Northern Health weighs its options, former North Coast health Advisory Board member Tobbi Gjelsvik has weighed in with a few questions for Northern Health, seeking some clarification on the status of past promises and looking for better communication from the Health Provider to the health care recipients.

The Daily news featured some details on the local aspect of the debate as well as a published letter to the editor from Gjelsvik in Friday’s paper.

By George T. Baker
The Daily News
Friday, July 17, 2009
Page two

The provincial health minister told CEOs this week that they will not have enough money to deliver planned services and that cuts, or spending priorities, will have to be made.

Falcon said he expects about 40 per cent of the savings to come through cuts to administration and overhead, and speeding up shared services such as bulk purchasing.

'You will also face some tough choices in the year head to live within your means," Falcon's letter says.

He told reporters in Victoria that health authority managers have committed to balancing their budgets this year.

"That, I think, is a very positive thing," Falcon said. "It's not easy for them, but they recognize that receiving a 20-per-cent budget increase over three years is pretty good given the economic situation that the province and the country finds itself in."

However there are some concerns on the North Coast that any cuts to the Northern Health Authority budget could worsen an already difficult health services situation in the Northwest.

In Prince Rupert, former North Coast Health Advisory Committee member, Tobbi Gjelsvik, is already troubled by the lack of movement to bring much-needed doctors to town.

Gjelsvik (see today's letter to the editor) said that at this point, there are at least 4,000 people in Prince Rupert without a doctor.

"This current situation is putting additional stress and pressure on the residents of the north coast and I would say such a situation wouldn't be tolerated in the larger centres, even like Prince George," wrote Gjelsvik.

NH's Northwest COO, Marina Ellenson, said that administrative staff was looking at upping the level of practitioners working in Prince Rupert.

"We absolutely agree that we need to find more physicians for our general practitioner compliment [in Prince Rupert]," said Ellenson.

The worry is that additional staff might cost the health authority money it no longer has.

As the health authority that governs health services in Prince Rupert, Northern Health has a budget of $600 million. Of that, $83.4 million is spent on services for the Northwest, which includes Terrace, Kitimat Haida Gwaii and here.

The cuts come after the ministry provided NH with a $17 million increase at the beginning of the fiscal year.

"Even after that increase we needed to reduce about $13-to-$14 million," said Ellenson.

According to her, the Northwest region's share of the cut will be $2 million for 2008-09.

"We certainly have a commitment to working with the ministry, who has definitely done a good job working with us but wee need to bring our spending into line with our budgets."

North Coast MLA, Gary Coons, said he believes that job cuts will be coming but it won't be from doctors and nurses.

He believes that it will be support or laboratory staff that meets the chopping block.

"They did the same thing to hospital stores a few years back, a number of Hospital Employee's Union folks lost jobs," said Coons.

Ellenson said that right now NH is looking at where they can streamline and improve what they are already doing.

"We are taking a look at overtime and travel expenses," said Ellenson.

With files from Canadian Press

A letter to Northern Health
Letter to the Editor
The Daily News
Friday, July 17, 2009
Page four

To the Editor,

I sent this email below to Northern Health and haven't received a reply as of yet.

Dear Ms. Ellinson,

People have been asking me if! Had heard anything more about the doctors coming to Rupert. I haven't, so I thought I would check with you.

In April, Kelly Phipps from Northern Health told our Advisory Committee (now disbanded) that as many as 7 doctors were considering the move to Prince Rupert. This was even better news than what we were told earlier, with the original number then being only three.

What is their status? We continue to have 4 to 5 thousand people in our community and outlying villages, with no family doctor and that is unacceptable.

Ms. Phipps also mentioned to our committee that Northern Health was looking at a pilot project at the Greene Clinic. This was to offer short term practioners for a period of 3 months who would assist with unattached patients with advanced access and follow up. This was to hopefully lead to permanent residence of these doctors.

The Greene Clinic sits waiting and still nothing has happened. What is the status of this?

Horror stories continue at the emergency at PRRH with staggering wait times and people overworked. An emergency should be just that, an emergency and not a home for all the displaced residents of Prince Rupert and the outlying areas without a doctor. It is unfair to those professionals that have to work under these conditions.

It just seems that this goes on and on at times and is becoming more and more unfair. It also seems that the small communities continue to be left out when it comes to health care.

I also wonder if Northern Health just isn't to large and that the recruitment of doctors isn't high enough up on it's things to do. That is also unfair.

This current situation is putting additional stress and pressure on the residents of the north coast and I would say such a situation wouldn't be tolerated in the larger centres, even like Prince George.

I would appreciate your response to my concerns and also why not give our communities some regular updates via the newspapers locally, as I am sure people would appreciate it.

Thank you for your time.

Tobbi Gjelsvik

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