Crisis translates as opportunity?

The recession may mean hardship for many British Columbians. But the head of the Fraser Health Authority, who recently axed some of the region's "non-core" services, has said the recession also provides an opportunity to "push change" in the healthcare system. And that comment is coming under fire from the president of the province's nurses' union.

Nigel Murray, the authority's president and chief executive officer, made the remark during a Surrey Board of Trade luncheon last Wednesday, which Health Services Minister Kevin Falcon also addressed.

At that luncheon - which was promoted as including a discussion about the "role of private industry in the development of health services" - Dr. Murray told attendees the healthcare system is "facing unprecedented demand for services" thanks to British Columbia's growing and aging population.

But, according to a video recording of that event exclusively obtained by Public Eye, it's also facing increased "expectation about what people want from their health systems as opposed to what we need and can afford to deliver. There is a tension and it's growing and we need to deal with it."

And that's where the recession comes in.

"There is a great saying I heard recently," the health authority head said, "And that is: 'Why waste a good recession to reform, to really push change?' And we need change."

Dr. Murray then went on to say the "majority" of the fiscal and demand challenges facing the healthcare system will be solved by "raising revenue, reducing administrative and support costs and reengineering the way we work."

But "some of the challenge will need to be addressed by reducing some of our service areas back to what we need to do in our core. And we have been doing this."

That's a reference to the cuts that have already been made at Fraser Health, including: closing residential, hospice, psychiatric and detox beds; as well as eliminating patient counsellors, spiritual care coordinators and health unit aides.

The British Columbia Nurses' Union has already come out against those and others made across the healthcare system.

But its president Debra McPherson said Dr. Murray's remark makes "what seemed merely unjust" now appear "truly cruel and Machiavellian."

In a written reaction, Ms. McPherson stated the health authorities are using the "cover of the recession" to satisfy "the long held dream of government to reduce healthcare services delivered publicly and redefine what the people of BC can expect from medicare in the future."

However, in his speech to the Surrey Board of Trade, Dr. Murray said he makes "no apologies for this health authority doing things differently - challenging custom and practice."

"Our success is totally reliant on our appetite for innovation," the health authority head said, having earlier spoken of reforming the healthcare system in "partnership" with communities and physicians, as well as lowering "health bureaucracy" costs.

Indeed, he stressed, "Tinkering around the margins of what we've always done is just not good enough."

And Dr. Murray stated he believes there's never been a better opportunity to go beyond tinkering.

"There's not a household in our communities that is not aware of the fiscal challenges and the sustainability of the healthcare system. People are ready for that reform."

The following is a complete copy of the advertisement for that event, which was sponsored by Simon Fraser University.


Health Services Lunch Dec 9
Wednesday, December 09 2009, 11:30am - 1:30pm
Health Services Lunch with Hon. Kevin Falcon and Dr. Nigel Murray

Join the Surrey Board of Trade for an overview of the future of British Columbia's health services. This event features two experts on the subject; the Honourable Kevin Falcon, Minister of Health Services, and Dr. Nigel Murray, CEO of the Fraser Health Auhtority.

Topics will inlcude:

- The role of private industry in the development of health services.
- New developments in additional health services for SMH and Peace Arch Hospital.
- The Ministry's opinion of a two-tiered health service system (private and public).

Generously sponsored by Simon Fraser University!

Register Here!

Location: Eaglequest Golf Course Coyote Creek
7778 152 Street

Surrey, B.C.

1 Comment

Mr Murray is referencing the doctrine of "starving the beast," a phrase coined by Reagan's budget director to explain how the real reason for massive tax cuts (apart from rewarding big political donors) was to create an artificial crisis necessitating drastic cuts to core government services. (BC's own tax cuts for the highest income earners similarly represent a big chunk of our current & future fiscal hole).

The record does not suggest that Mr. Murray is speaking in isolation when he advances a 30-year old Reaganomics doctrine, however. The BC Liberals have been prodding and poking Health, Education and the Social Services since 2001, looking for any excuse to starve or slay our own triple-headed beast.

Gary Collins pulled a classic "Starve the Beast" on Day 1, with the huge tax cut that compounded an inherited deficit and "necessitated" deep government cuts.

In the social services, it's clear the dizzying pace of endless, pointless restructuring has been used to distract from the steady eroson of services.

In education, the push to promote "choice and flexibility" under the former Deputy (a great fan of privatization) didn't get far. So we've seen private school funding boosted while the public schools are slowly starved, pushing more families to choose private. The latest jab is forcing yet another round of unfunded salary increases, plus full-day K without full-day funding, on school boards.

In health, cancelling contracts to privatize many services backfired in the courts. Then the Conversation on Health went nowhere, and the Canada Health Act keeps getting in the way. The recession is therefore a handy excuse to deliver shock treatment, and having an appointed CEO do it lets the political masters claim their hands are clean.

If you get the chance, read (or re-read) Nobel laureate/economist Paul Krugman's "The Tax Cut Con" - which shows that BC's power base is still very much stuck in the early 1980s!

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