Feature Story                                                                                          Wednesday, March 27, 2013                      

'Old Age Is Not A Diagnosis'

Finding a cure for an ailing medical system

Staff/Voice photos


NDP health critic Mike Farnworthand and MLA Gwen O'Mahony speak to reporters at the Lynnwood on Tuesday.

ome people say BC's health care system is sick. Of those, many are seniors who suddenly find themselves freefalling on a medical odyssey, where ironically, the experience of navigating to proper treatment has made them even sicker.


A common denominator that often surfaces in these convoluted tales is that medical professionals are increasingly shrugging their shoulders and brushing seniors aside saying, 'well, there's nothing we can do, you're just getting old.'


Because of this kind of blasť treatment, more elderly patients are being forced to stand up and declare "old age is not a diagnosis!"


The BC NDP say they want to do something about deficiencies in the medical system. No one knows exactly what that is because they haven't tabled their election platform yet. But in the build-up to that, party members are circulating in communities and looking for suggestions so they can add fixes.


On Tuesday, health critic Mike Farnworth was at Lynnwood Retirement Residences for a round table discussion, hosted by Chilliwack NDP candidate Patti MacAhonic and MLA Gwen O'Mahony, where they heard from seniors who shared personal experiences and concerns about the medical system.

Some people had issues with surgical wait times. Others faced additional hardships by being needlessly forced to travel back-and-forth between their family doctors in Chilliwack and specialists who are often in Vancouver.

Farnworth and the NDP want everyone working off the same page, but he says Fraser Health and Coastal Health are on separate patient information systems, whereby data-sharing is unmanageable, and can result in a redundancy of services and lengthy delays in treatment. He also says writing and reading prescription notes is an "archaic form of communication". Another "fix" that Farnworth says bears looking at, is paying doctors salaries, as opposed to fee-based, which would get them more interested in relocating to rural areas.



Farnworth Q&A with reporters:

On A Mental Health Team for Chilliwack (the Voice)

One local bar owner who's poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into his high profile establishment, reported to the Voice that a police officer threatened to arrest him in his pub under the Mental Health Act. This is an abuse of the Act.

A. I think that what we need to do is recognize is that there's a population of people with mental illness issues that are very complex and cannot be served by regional services and there needs to be a province wide residential facility for individuals and the ability to provide much more complex services they may not otherwise be able to access.

I think the Riverview site is boarded up, about 240 acres. It's been there for over 100 years and you know I'm not talking about Riverview of the 1940s but rather much smaller facilities in a province wide function that's missing now.

Coupled with that, you've got to have resources on the ground in different communities so you're not relying on the police because that's not their function even though they've had some training in it.

Q. So you support having a mental health mobile team in Chilliwack?

A. Those are the kinds of initiatives that we've got to be looking at putting in place in the communities because in some parts of the province regional services work fine.

You've got the ability to provide those services, in others we don't.

Identifying gaps like a mobile health team, is a formula that's not there right now that can be very effective if we had things like that.

Police are expensive, and they're doing a job that's not their primary role.

Its no different than your being shunted from one specialist to another, it's using up a lot of resources.

Its inefficiencies in the system that need to be addressed. its not a case of throwing more money at something.

Here's how we're doing things now and that just doesn't make sense.

We can streamline that and reallocate that money to other areas that need it.

A lot of people say health care is all about writing additional cheques. In some cases it does require investment on health infrastructure and getting a new program, particularly primary care and seniors care. A lot of it is; 'you know what? We can actually do this better than what we're doing right now.'

That's what the focus needs to be and its making sure the different components of health care are more integrated with each other and not in little bits and pieces.

On Hospital Parking (the Voice)

Q. Personally, I don't believe that sick people should pay for parking. If you have someone driving themselves to the hospital in an emergency situation, where are they going to park if the lots are full and staff have taken up all the spots meant for the public on the street?

A. Parking is an issue, not just an issue here in Chilliwack, but in other parts of the province. The cost of parking at many facilities is extremely expensive. It's very difficult for people to be able to access particularly if they're making regular visits to a hospital.

We've got to find a way to look at some of these things. One of the challenges is that our health care system, that many health authorities is that they are relying on these to provide services and they're in this situation where they're raising parking fees to pay for services.

On Ambulance Services (the Voice)

Ambulance drivers are overworked. They're working overtime. Quite often news reporters show up at accident scenes even before paramedics due to an overtaxed service that is stretched too thin. They're dog tired, and then are called out to save someone's life. How can the community not expect them not to make mistakes when they are overworked and tired? They're human. So it becomes more of a safety issue. There could also be a lift-assist team to help paramedics. First responders are called out almost daily for this which takes them away from their other duties.

A. What we want to see is better ambulance service in different parts of the province. That's one of the reasons why I'm out here is finding out what are the gaps, what are the gaps in terms of service levels. There's real issues between rural British Columbia, urban British Columbia within different health authorities in terms of the levels of ambulance service and those are the challenges that we've got to face and address after we become government after the 15th of May.

On Water Chlorination (Starfm)

A. Always, the first priority for the health care system has to be the health and safety of the people of the community and that's where I think the health authority needs to be working with the local community, on dealing with health issues and health concerns that are existing there, and in that sense chlorination is one of those issues they need to be working with. But the bottom line is this; as we saw in Walkerton, what happened when that wasn't dealt with, we need health and safety, that has to come first, but I think you need to work with communities and address concerns.

On Kidney Dialysis (Progress)

Q. Chilliwack doesn't have a dialysis unit, Abbotsford has two and they have double our population, so we have people commuting, something like 20 people, from Hope and from Chilliwack to Abbotsford , FHA says there's not enough population.

A. This comes back to the kinds of services that are needed in each community.

Services have got to keep pace with that growth and when you're spending $15M on partisan advertising, when you're spending $11M on hosting an awards show (Bollywood) ... that's money that could go towards fixing it. It comes down to a question of priorities.

That's one of the criticisms we have of the current government is that they don't seem to have a long-term plan to deal with a lot of these issues. It's been all about campaigning and not governing and so whether its emergency rooms and having a plan to deal with them, and identify problems or gaps in the ability to provide services such as dialysis.

Its not going to take huge amounts of money to fix some of these problems, or its a reconfiguration of services within a health authority that will provide additional services in communities that we need.

There's a lot to do, lets put it that way. But I think we can meet those challenges.

On Demographics (Progress)

Q. Chilliwack is one of the fastest growing communities in BC, its not a small town in the north somewhere.

A. Port Coquitlam is a faster growing community, so is Surrey, so is Langley. In the Lower Mainland, that's one of the key issues. We're growing very fast.

Its not a case though of just throwing money at it. What it is is saying is different issues are in each community, so lets work with the physicians in the hospitals in those communities, lets work with the BCMA, identify what the problems are, what the roadblocks are and get them fixed.

On Hospital Overcrowding (Progress)

Q. Emergency Room Congestion - Chilliwack has one of the most over-capacity, and one of the most congested hospitals in BC, and they got a failing grade by BC emergency doctors recently. Do you know about this? do you have any plans...

A. There's a lot of concern about emergency facilities not just here in Chilliwack but right around the province. There are many in small towns, for example, the interior, their emergency is shutting down, its only open a couple of days a week and it's being closed for a week at a time, like over Christmas and things like that.

We're hearing about here in Chilliwack, the Royal Columbian, around issues around emergency rooms care and we've got to find a way to address that and its got to be done by working with physicians and BCMA to find out what are the key issues because it's not the same in each hospital and fix it.

On Health Funding Model (Starfm)

Q. What about an NDP funding model for health?

A. That's why I'm out in different parts of the province. We'll be unveiling our platform. What we have said is in a budget that was tabled by the government back in February, that their increase for healthcare doesn't even meet their own numbers as to what they said was needed this coming year.

What we've said is that we've got to recognize that there's population growth, that there's growth in terms of demographics and that you don't table a budge that says you're going to hire 2,000 more nurses and not fund them, which is what we're seeing.

On What People Want (Times)

Q. What concerns did you hear from people today?

A. Wait lists, wait lists for surgery that while deemed not life threatening, is certainly enjoyment of life debilitating.

When someone is telling you they're having to wait almost three years to get a bladder procedure done, (that takes two hours done), for example being incontinent, when you're 72, that's pretty debilitating in terms of your ability to lead and active, a productive life, and, with an aging seniors population, we need to recognize it because with conditions like this we've got to be dealing with them far better than they are.

People don't want to be waiting for years, nor should they have to be waiting for long periods of time. That was another key concern that got raised here today.


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