Opinion

BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Funding falls short

One shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth, but some residents may wonder what all of the fuss was about at Vernon Jubilee Hospital.

Last week, Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid announced a $29.6 million project to convert two shelled-in floors into acute care wards. Once completed in mid-2015, the wards will consist of 60 beds, taking the total number of beds at the hospital from 148 to 162.

But of course, the devil is in the details.

Of those 60 beds, 46 of them already exist and will be transferred over from the old part of the hospital. That means there is only a net gain of 14 beds, and I have heard some people question if that is a suitable government response to overcrowding and the years of lobbying that galvanized North Okanagan residents.

And that’s fair commentary when you consider conditions in recent years.

In December 2011, doctors stated the number of patients daily has been between 160 and 179, or eight to 20 per cent over-capacity.

Jump ahead to November 2012, and admitted patients on one day reached 193.

On Feb. 8, a day after MacDiarmid’s visit, there were 194 patients — a record-breaker.

MacDiarmid was all smiles as she announced the 60 beds.

“Finishing  the top two floors will greatly improve capacity at the Vernon Jubilee  Hospital, while also increasing patient comfort, privacy and safety,” she said.

According to the Interior Health Authority, the census ranges from 160 to 190 patients daily, and that’s not unexpected given winter ailments like flu and weather-related injuries like falling on the ice.

That means that once the two floors are completed and the 60 new or relocated beds are opened, there will be two more than the minimum average admitted patients.

Does that mean that even with the 14 new beds, there will still be patients in hallways? Will people continue to have surgeries cancelled because everything is full?

Government officials will of course say that some beds will be freed up by residential care patients moving into the community. That may be true but will that be sufficient to make up for a growing and aging population”

Physicians who pushed hard for more acute care beds have praised MacDiarmid’s announcement, but they may be simply accepting the reality that this was the best Victoria had to offer. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

Even with a $29 million investment, though, some disappointment exists.

There are four operating rooms while there’s space for seven. I have been told that at least one more is required immediately just to handle emergencies and a second OR would be ideal to alleviate the waitlist.

There wasn’t a single mention of operating rooms by MacDiarmid, and she also didn’t touch on the lack of a magnetic resonance imaging machine (MRI).

Obviously the government can’t do everything as it faces significant financial demands — Penticton is now calling for a health care tower. It should also be pointed out that Vernon has seen millions of dollars pumped into health care in the last few years.

That said, it appears that planning for the two floors is running tight and some long-term needs are going unaddressed.

Ultimately, North Okanagan residents will be left asking if they got the best bang for their tax dollars, particularly if the 60 beds are unveiled in 2015 and hallway stretchers are required.

---Richard Rolke is the senior reporter for The Morning Star

 

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