NDP Health Critic MLA Mike Farnworth receives a detailed mural description from Cariboo Friendship Society executive director Rosanna McGregor during a visit to Williams Lake.

NDP Health Critic MLA Mike Farnworth receives a detailed mural description from Cariboo Friendship Society executive director Rosanna McGregor during a visit to Williams Lake.

Opposition critic listens to health care concerns in Williams Lake

If his party forms government after May’s election, NDP health critic Mike Farnworth wants to be prepared.

If his party forms government after May’s election, NDP health critic Mike Farnworth wants to be prepared.

If the NDP is not successful, then he wants to be informed so he can ask the right questions, Farnworth said while in  Williams Lake Monday.

Farnworth toured Cariboo Memorial Hospital with Dr. Glenn Fedor and Deb Runge, acute care health services administrator, and later met with Rosanna McGregor, executive director of Cariboo Friendship Society and a board member for Interior Health.

“I’ve heard a number of issues. Finding out what’s working and what could be better. I want to leave here with a better understanding of what’s going on in Williams Lake so that when I go back and talk with Adrian Dix and my colleagues, I’m able to say where our priorities should be focused on,” he told media, adding the top concerns raised were around drug and alcohol treatment, mental health, seniors care, recruitment of medical staff, and the hospital’s master plan.

One of the key challenges B.C. faces in its health system is the fact that medical staff are aging, he said.

“We’ve got to ensure we’re training enough people so communities like Williams Lake and rural B.C. in general have people who are from here and are going to practice here. Rural health care has to be a bigger priority than it’s been in the past.”

A public policy change has to transpire to put more focus on training and skills development of British Columbians, he suggested.

“Whether it’s radiology technicians, nurses, physicians, or better use of nurse practitioners, all those things feed into the health care system as a whole. We’ve got to find ways of doing things better than we are and ensure we’re training people to fill positions in B.C. Lots of positions are going unfilled.”

The Cariboo Memorial Hospital master plan is among plans around the province and if government knows what the state of the plans are and what the demands are, then government is better equipped to make decisions, Farnworth commented.

Williams Lake is not alone when it comes to lacking drug and alcohol treatment programs. It’s all over B.C., he said.

“If one of the things we want to do in health care is to recognize that the acute care system is extremely important, but also that it’s expensive, many health care issues could be treated as chronic disease management or could be captured under prevention or primary care.”

Alcohol and drug treatment should be done at that level and not in the acute care system of hospitals. The treatment needs to be community based, and accessible, and more than what exists right now.

“The result is if you have resources going to those areas, you are going to see the benefit on the acute side.”

Glad that Deni House was re-opened in 2012, Farnworth said its location and proximity to the hospital makes good sense.

“There’s a good health care system here and that to me is something that’s important. We have a good health care system in this province, but there are a lot of changes coming in funding, with cutbacks from Ottawa due to the new health transfer accord. The days of the six per cent annual increase in health care funds from Ottawa will end in 2014, placing pressure on the province.”

The new agreements will be tied to Gross Domestic Product growth and the result will be that the provinces will see increases of only two, three or four per cent.

“That’s a significant reduction to the provinces in terms of funding available for health care and that has an impact on the system,” Farnworth explained.

It’s going to be a big issue in the future, so planning and making sure that provinces stand up to the federal government on how they are treated when it comes to health care discussions is crucial.

“We can’t just roll over and say ‘yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir,’ which is what happened with this health agreement.”

The cut will cost roughly around $500 million in the first year, he estimated, adding that’s not an insignificant amount.

With an annual health budget of $17 million, the province is spending “a lot of money” Farnworth said.

“We have to make sure we’re spending it as efficiently as we can. When we know there are key pressure points, let’s start identifying them early on and put strategies in place to work with them. Whether that’s training or working with other provinces to leverage our ability to buy together to get a lower price for equipment.”

There’s a myth out there that B.C. is the only province with an growing population of seniors, he said.

“In some cases it’s a smaller percentage, but the absolute numbers are larger. Let’s face it, Ontario has 12 million people. It can be different parts of provinces too. Some cities become retirement cities. It varies within provinces, and it varies from province to province, but it’s not unique to B.C. All provinces are dealing with an aging population.”

It’s important then to ensure services are in place so seniors can stay in their homes as long as possible, and not occupying acute beds. That there are cheaper and friendlier options for seniors, whether that is home support, home care, assisted living, or supported care.

“There’s a whole spectrum that comes to the community based, primary care, and the preventative, where we’re focused on areas that have an impact on being able to free up beds and free up the acute care system. It’s one of the key challenges we face.”

Farnworth also visited 100 Mile House while in the Cariboo.