The province will give Fraser Health an extra $60-million over two years after a review of B.C.'s largest health authority found its hospitals were lagging behind their peers – prompting the authority's interim chair to admit some patients' experiences "were less than what we should have provided."
The review identified 10 priority action areas and called for less reliance on hospitals, improved hospital care and greater investment in community health services. The province also floated the possibility that Burnaby will move from the Fraser Health authority to Vancouver Coastal, since many of its residents already head to Vancouver for treatment.
"Over the last few weeks I have had the opportunity to thoroughly review the plan and reflect on its findings and the challenges the health authority faces, and I really believe that this plan provides a solid roadmap for the coming years," Health Minister Terry Lake, who ordered the review in the fall of 2013 after Fraser Health went over budget for the third straight year, said Wednesday.
Mr. Lake repeatedly stressed that Fraser Health, which has a budget of $3-billion, has not been underfunded. However, he said an extra $60-million will be put into the system – $40-million the first year, $20-million the next – as part of the strategic plan.
He said it "would be wrong to say everything Fraser Health has been doing has been incorrect," but added sometimes people work so hard on the day-to-day that they fail to think strategically. "Sometimes you don't see the forest for the trees," he said.
Mr. Lake said acute care in particular needs a "laser focus." He said data show some of Fraser Health's hospitals are not performing as well as their peers across the country. He said the average length of stay is longer, which is not good for patients and is more costly.
The strategic plan also calls for decreasing congestion in emergency departments, and reducing hospital-acquired infection rates.
Wynne Powell, Fraser Health's interim chair, said the plan will help the authority move into the future. He said a search is already under way for the organization's next long-term president and chief executive officer. Mr. Powell said Fraser Health has fallen short in treating some of its patients, though he called such cases outliers.
"During the course of this review and other times, patients' experiences in a number of cases were less than what we should have provided," he said. "…Unfortunately, outlier cases will occur, but I want to thank each and every member of the Fraser Health team for how they assist the families."
Judy Darcy, the opposition NDP's health critic, said while the Fraser Health review acknowledged problems, it fell short on solutions.
"When action was needed to address serious issues like hospital overcrowding, emergency room wait times and inadequate staffing levels in Fraser Health, the ministry failed to take action, and responded by promising this review instead," she wrote in a statement. "But the changes outlined in this review fall short of what people in this region deserve."
Ms. Darcy said if the province truly wants to take pressure off acute care, it needs to provide better funding for community health centres, and home support, among other things.